5 Basics for Leading Through Uncharted Territory

“Life is uncharted territory. It reveals its story one moment at a time. – Leo Buscaglia

The global pandemic coronavirus (COVID-19), has brought us all into unprecedented levels of concern for our nation’s health and wellbeing, a concern shared by leaders in every country. The necessary extraordinary measures enacted to slow the rapid spread of covid-19 has brought us into uncharted territory.

Community in Crisis

Restrictions public interaction impact social health; businesses are trying desperately to avoid letting employees go or shutting down altogether. Being in quarantine is the present reality for millions, every precaution to protect ourselves and our families, are being taken. For the time being, a crisis mindset has become the new normal.

How can we, as leaders, taking all the necessary precautions to protect ourselves, families, and keep our organizations going? Understanding three facts will prove helpful moving forward.  First, we must face the fact that none of us has the definitive answer. Second, this pandemic will eventually pass (hopefully with as little irreparable damage as possible). Third, we are in uncharted territory, and the only way to move forward finding solutions is to work together.

Leaders Lead – That’s What They Do

John Maxwell writes, “The unique challenge of leadership is making today work for tomorrow, especially when today seems to threaten that there won’t be a tomorrow. But the only way there won’t be a tomorrow is if we give in to the fear today.

Leaders, your people, are looking to you to help them find the security and strength that will allow hope to take root in their life. It’s a significant task, but one that you’re capable of if you’ll stay visible, present, realistic, and hopeful.

In all my years of leading, I know this for sure: fear never lasts unless you feed it. As a leader, it’s your job to starve fear by feeding people hope and showing them a better picture of what’s ahead. Give your people the hope they need to hold on.” (1)

5 Basics for leading through uncharted territory

“It’s okay to feel fear. It’s not okay to make your people carry it.” – Mark Cole

We owe it to our people, to be honest with them at all times, and that includes telling them we don’t have an answer, but together we can find some solutions. Some of the most courageous leaders I know make bold statements, difficult decisions under pressure, bravely leading their people through the most trying circumstances – doing it in the face of fear. Mark Twain said, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”

 Like all leaders, I’ve been through some measure of uncharted territory before and following the example of leaders before I adapted five basics for leading through uncertain times that have served my teams well.

 1) Define the Present Reality

To define reality, you must understand the issue at hand. If you don’t understand the problem, you’ll never solve it. Defining reality means accurately articulate what you’re facing, this diminishes anxiety and fear and diffuses much of the initial tensions. Accurate information always gives you an edge when you’re in uncharted territory.

2) Begin with the Basics

Simplicity is your greatest ally amid complexity. Many well-meaning people will often waste time and energy on the peripherals.  Focusing on factors that are driving the problem will help you identify those areas requiring the most attention. It’s easier to find solutions focusing on the basics, than wading through a ton of data looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack.

3) Reference the Facts

I’ve been in meetings where possible solutions are being proposed without understanding the issue or failing to reference any facts. Dealing with this is like trying to answer questions nobody’s asking, it never leads to a solution. Peter Drucker says, “Erroneous assumptions can be disastrous.”

Acquire the facts, so your team is better equipped to offer informed suggestions. Referencing the facts leads to better decisions, avoiding the delays caused by relying on opinions. Using facts alone helps you uncover patterns and behaviors that may have contributed to the problem. Keeping everyone focused on the real possibilities and options available is always encouraging and empowering. 

 4) Get Everyone Actively Involved

I like to challenge my teams to come up with two, maybe three possible solutions and include themselves in at least one of them. I’m always wary of people who freely offer suggestions without getting their hands dirty, it’s tiring and wastes time.

a) Assign everyone specific tasks commensurate with their gifts and strengths.

b) Set times constraints for each task.

c) Schedule periodic progress reports.

d) Ask specific “why” questions, that require details instead of short generalized answers.

5) Trust your instincts

As a good leader, you already have good instincts and developed skillsets. You also have the combined skills and abilities of your team at your disposal. Trust your instincts; you’re most intuitive where you have the most knowledge. Be acquainted with the nuances and communicative styles of your team members.

a) Trust your intuition; it will tell you what to look for

b) Don’t ignore a persistent feeling about something

c) Your intuition will help you recognize and emerging leader on your team

“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

 

(1) “Leading Through Frightening Times” by John C. Maxwell https://bit.ly/2UomnT2

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