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The Kind of Leadership Businesses Demand in The Times of Uncertainty

Oct 16, 2020

After every crisis, some of the uncertainty becomes a part of our new reality. How, then, do you adapt and thrive when change is not a choice but inevitability? Let’s see.

Can you believe that Netflix is over two decades old?

The company has responded to changes (dot-com crash, global financial crisis, COVID-19) in a manner that in every period it seemed it belonged to those times, and sometimes even ahead of them. This once exclusively DVD-by-mail company started to build a streaming service in the early 2000s when most homes didn’t even have internet with enough bandwidth. Anticipating a shift in technology it sensed well in-advance how the consumption of media would change. The results? It has grown from 10m subscribers in 2010 to more than 160m in 2020.

We are good at finding solutions for today, but when it comes to the future, it’s human nature to see things in a state of positive permanence. Instinctively we tend to underestimate the likelihood of negative events. And this makes us not so good at preparing for uncertainty, much less manage it.

Successful businesses prepare for the unknown and use uncertain times as a chance to rethink their working norms. The throes of COVID-19 have sent a reminder for business leaders that continual re-examination of ongoing practices and assumptions is paramount.

Here’s a guide to help business strategists act amid uncertainty – and leverage the times to up their adaptability quotient and position themselves for success.

Resilience: An Antidote for Business Uncertainty

Uncertainty brings outcomes we never predicted or saw coming – whether it be a fire breakout and pipe burst or global pandemic. The problem deepens when you are left in limbo and can’t tell for how long the adversity will last, such as the coronavirus pandemic where businesses are still wondering about the shape and extent of economic recovery, and long-term impact on business models and consumer behavior. After all, what do you hold onto when you make plans in uncertainty?

In such times, resilience can become a valued characteristic for businesses.

It is not possible for anyone to be fully prepared for the unknown. But resilient organizations learn to expect the unexpected. It helps them rebound more quickly than others and take first-mover advantage of many opportunities that emerge.

Resilience is not the resistance to change, but one’s ability to embrace change. And be ready for it. It is reflected in how you react to the uncertainty; how fast you bounce back; and in what health do you remain in afterward. Instead of attempting to preserve what worked in the past, resilient leaders push past their fears, brainstorm new ideas, and embrace large-scale disruption.

In nutshell, resilience is a sign of an organization’s capacity to come back stronger than ever after having been knocked down by uncertainty.

But, how do you do that? How do you ensure you that adverse situations bend you, and not break you?

Resilience starts where new perspective meets experience. It is cumulated in how you look at change.

Finding a way to rise from the ashes requires rewiring your thinking for resilience and reorganize. We suggest three steps to achieve that.

First, make peace with uncertainty. Understand what has changed, what led to it, and the need to get your business back on its foot, instead of staying down and defeated. Then, change your perspective. Swap your question of why this is happening to what it is trying to teach me. Finally, make changes to your present and prepare yourself to better handle the adversity in the future. Focus on growing with new strategies in place.

Leaders must understand the value of each step for developing resilience in the organization. Those who just rebound and survive may fall into the same trap again when faced with adversity the next time.

Ten Sage Advices to Respond to COVID-19 Uncertainty

When facts on the ground are incomplete and in flux, what you need to put in place an operational business is experimentation. Develop a culture of responding to uncertainty by rapidly hypothesizing, testing, learning from new trials, and adapting to the models that work. Here are a few actions global business leaders can take in this pandemic to beat the uncertainty blues and become resilient and agile.

  • Operate with a sense of personal safety. Great leadership is always about emotional connection. In this pandemic, as a primary responsibility, ensure that everyone in your organization is safe, secure, and healthy.

  • Achieve a level of business continuity. Being functional, staying afloat, and carrying on is crucial in any uncertainty. Find a way to keep going on. Use virtual medium and collaborative tools. Focus on optimizing continuity thereafter.

  • Show signs of life. Make your clients and customers know you are well and available.

  • Be less promotional & more comforting in your messaging. You can take either a direct marketing approach or you can be more sensitive by deploying a “hope all is well” campaign and the likes. Instead of a sales pitch, most global leaders are opting to touch base by asking about customers’/clients’ wellbeing and informing them of their availability lest they need their product or services.

  • Go multichannel and focus on customer-centricity. Make a zero-tolerance declaration in your organization on any internal silos against customer-centricity. Ensure that your employees imbibe that in customers are the top priority in these times. Furthermore, don’t limit yourself to one channel for communication and operations. Experiment to find one or multiple best channels that best suit your needs.

  • Stay away from the herd mentality. What is working for one company may not work for you. Find your new normal as you adapt every day. Mercilessly examine your weaknesses and vulnerabilities to become stronger for the long run. Destruct archaic practices to rebuild.

  • Keep a cool head. It’s not uncommon for the dropping numbers to get your nerves. Don’t panic in these situations. It’s needless. Take a step back and see what you are left with. Gratitude for what you have can open a new world of possibilities. Look toward the long-term for more motivation.

  • Organize for rapid decision-making. Uncertainty catches one off-guard. If you aren’t prepared, a crisis will overwhelm you. Distribute leadership responsibilities across your organization such that your employees are self-motivated and empowered to make decisions and operate with speed. A large part of this change is to give yourself (as an organization) the permission to be wrong in case things go south.

  • Make your offerings relevant to the times. Use the uncertainty to gauge where customers’ propensities lie or would change in the future. Leverage new mediums and products/services of their choice to redesign your offerings and innovate.

  • Collaboration is the key to build resilience. Startups are seen as a threat by incumbents, and vice-versa. However, a variety of collaborations between startups and incumbents can help each party survive, adapt, and thrive. Right collaboration would make it easy for both to raise capital, reduce cost, and position for growth. Forge joint ventures, or project-based relationship to come up with disruptive value propositions.

To Sum

What type of leadership does uncertainty demand? The answer lies in resilience and agility. Enduring hard times are about leveraging, and not reacting to the turbulence around you. Lead by preparing your teams and organization to recreate the future with you. Adopt a new perspective to carve new normal, set a new vision, and imbibe new practices.

Business strategists who successfully lead their organizations through uncertainty not only survive, but also shields them from future disruptions by growing their adaptability quotient.

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