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  • Writer's pictureJayne McQuillan

Uncertainty…That Which We Can’t Control.

Uncertainty, part of our everyday lives. Or better stated – that which we can’t control. Nothing has been truer during the worldwide pandemic of 2020. 

Families dealing with children schooling at home, loved ones being quarantined and thus unable to physically connect, employees working from home, and businesses managing the health of their employees while on site - uncertainty is the daily norm! We, as human beings, like to feel we have control, at least to some level, over our environment and interactions, as well as our ability to have answers to problems or situations.

Having three adult children, two of whom have been moving around during these times – one relocating out of state with a job change due to COVID downsizing and another managing through graduate school field work in health care during a worldwide pandemic – I want to have control to make sure they are okay. As parents, we are entrusted with the care and nurturing of our children to prepare them for their future. Hopefully, that includes self-sufficiency and self-motivation to achieve their goals and aspirations, as well as strong values to help them in their decision making as they move through life. Unfortunately, when they go off to a job, are impacted by layoffs, or are struggling to start a career in times of uncertainty, we want to control the environment around them to make life easier.

Now, don’t get me wrong, overcoming challenges and adversity are necessary steps in their lives to make them resilient, but for a parent, it is a very uneasy and scary thing. We can no longer protect our children or take care of them in the same way we once could. We need to rely on them to use what they’ve learned to succeed on their own. They need to be able to turn to other resources to help them get their answers, seek advice on what to do and where to go; they need to begin to lead their own lives, which is both terrifying and thrilling. The key, however, is that the values we have instilled will be their compass moving forward.

What about you and your business or your career? As you’ve developed over time in your leadership, what have you discovered about managing uncertainty? Have you relied on yourself to have all the answers? Or, have you grown and developed because you have been willing to seek advice from others who have been there and done that, and can provide you with different ideas and insights to make you and your business better? 

Think back to your first day of college or your first day on a new job. Did you have all the answers about what you needed to do, how you needed to act or operate to be successful? My guess is, you didn’t. What’s changed as we have gotten older and taken on more responsibility? Do we stop needing other resources to help us be successful? The answer is an emphatic NO! The problem, however, is that when we achieve success – become the president of a company, a top executive, or achieve whatever other successful heights in our careers – we think we should have all the answers. Ironically, it’s at this point we have fewer answers than ever because the problems are more complex, are impacted by many internal and external forces, and require input from others to fully evaluate and determine the best course of action. 

What we as leaders need to remember is the question is not if your organization will experience uncertain times...the question today is how often.

So, what are the key leadership behaviors you need to follow when riding out the storm of uncertainty?

  1. Increase communication – Typically, in times of uncertainty we step into our parental ways and try to take control as a way to protect those around us. In reality, it is in times of uncertainty that we need to engage others EVEN MORE. When change is occurring, the need for information increases, and yet the level of communication usually decreases, which often leads to speculation and fear. It is your job as a leader to overcommunicate so they not only understand but can also support what needs to happen. Without information, we assume the worst and our ability to perform is stymied. But when armed with accurate information, individuals can make decisions and even help leaders consider new approaches to the challenges at hand.

  2. Lock into your vision and rely on your values – When our son lost his job and our daughter got delayed in starting her field work, we struggled with the uncertainty they were both dealing with and seeing the vision they both had for themselves quickly change. However, we trusted they were both equipped with the coping and problem-solving skills to move forward, and they have. Our son found a new, exciting opportunity in Montana, and our daughter is finishing her field work in 5 weeks and will graduate in December with many job opportunities in front of her. As a leader, your steadfast ability to live your values and stay focused on your vision provides stability and consistency in times of uncertainty.

  3. Seek wise counsel and ask questions Don’t seek cover, but seek guidance. The most successful leaders seek advice from their advisors, boards, leadership teams, etc. in times of uncertainty. Sharing the challenges and seeking advice not only demonstrates your humanness but also increases credibility and confidence of those you’re leading.

  4. Maintain calm – To be successful during times of uncertainty, you must be patient, consistent and focused on the goal that serves as your one true north. 

Leaders carry significant responsibility. Not to have all the answers, but to have the courage to lead, the ability to ask for help, and core values that are unwavering. For it is in those traits that our true leadership is measured.

Maturity, one discovers, has everything to do with the acceptance of ‘not knowing.

-Mark Z. Danielewski

Jayne McQuillan, CPA, MBA, is a strategic management consultant and the owner of Journey Consulting, LLC, in Green Bay

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