Leading During Times of Uncertainty
Amid the news of the global spread of the coronavirus, a world financial crisis, and an upcoming US presidential election, there is growing uncertainty, increased speculation, and rising public fear and reaction. As leaders, we have an imperative roll to play at times like these. People are looking for more information, interpretation of trends, understanding of how things will affect them personally, and help navigating the impact of things that they can’t control. While we’re specifically inspired to share these recommendations as it relates to current events, we also recommend that you extrapolate these recommendations and use them during any change effort, time of uncertainty, or during times of crisis with the teams and companies you lead, as well. Leaders act with intention during times of crisis, rapid change, uncertain outcomes, and rising fear. Here’s what they do:
Do your research and get the facts from credible, reliable sources. Seek out original sources whenever possible. Facebook is not an original source. Your favorite news outlet is not an original source. While no one source of information is perfect, some are undeniably better than others. In the case of the coronavirus, it’s best to look for sites that
- rely on experts who use well-accepted scientific analyses and publish their results in reputable medical journals,
- have a mission to inform and protect the public, such as the CDC and the WHO, which recently added a myth busters page to its information on 2019-nCoV,
- are not promoting or selling a product related to the information provided.
Consult the Experts
When the facts are contradictory or when there just isn’t enough information to make informed decisions, consult the experts. Find successful people that share your values and have a mission that resonates with you and consider their recommendations and advice. Get as many perspectives as you can.
We have advice for you from one of our favorite health experts, Dr. Richard Seidman, the Chief Medical Officer of LA Care Health Plan. He is responsible for keeping over 2,000 employees and over 2 million members healthy in Los Angeles county. He says:
- We remain more concerned about influenza than coronavirus in Los Angeles. The best thing you can do is get a flu shot.
- Wash your hands frequently and try to maintain 3 feet of distance between yourself and other people. Fist and elbow bumps are in.
- Stay home if you are sick.
- Check on your supplies at home and be prepared for any kind of emergency, even if it’s just feeling too sick to go out. Make sure you have enough food, water, and medication to last you at least a few days; a couple of weeks is even better.
In addition to the news on the coronavirus, there is no shortage of reporting on the current global financial crisis.
Deutsch Bank reports, “Over the past few days financial conditions have tightened sharply in response to rising fears that the coronavirus could exert a more severe and persistent drag on global and US growth than previously expected.” Businesses are responding and feeling the effects and reacting which is affecting the global financial markets. Global conferences and international events are being cancelled. US Conference attendance is reportedly decreased by 30%. According to the Financial Times, “Switzerland launched a ban on events attended by more than 1,000 people.”
So, what are we supposed to do? I went in search of advice and wisdom from my favorite financial guru, Warren Buffett. He says that fear and greed are diseases that infect investors and that Berkshire Hathaway attempts “to be fearful when others are greedy and to be greedy only when others are fearful.” That’s a perspective shift that makes me feel immediately less panicky about the performance of my 401K this week. He is advising investors not to buy or sell stocks based on today’s headlines.
Manage Your Impact
What you say and what you do have an impact on the individuals, teams, organizations, and communities that you interact with. Take responsibility for your impact. Make sure that what you’re saying and doing are having the desired effect. As leaders, we need to be especially careful not to add our fears and complaints to the concerns that others have. Do not contribute to the chaos. We should be crafting messages and communicating proactively to create more stability, less fear, and more psychological safety. Tell people what’s helpful; don’t tell them what’s not. What you say and do is as important as what you don’t say and do. Good leaders help their teams stay calm, reduce noise, and determine next steps to minimize risk and maximize opportunities.
Watch Your Language
Words matter. Use your words intentionally and understand that people are subconsciously mapping your language to create context and meaning. Deliberately use words that build messages of safety, normalize the experience that people are having, release pressure, reduce uncertainty, and decrease fear. Manage your euphemisms. Saying “managing for synergies” has become synonymous with “layoffs” after a merger and will have the same negative impact. But, talking about “caring for the people you lead and being committed to the best outcomes for people no matter what” creates a very different emotional impact on people, teams, organizations, and communities.
During times of uncertainty and increased risk, it is important to communicate your expectations and remind people of policies and circumstantial policy changes. The publicity about the coronavirus has created increased demand on companies to remind employees of their sick policies, their remote work policies, and their expectations of sick employees. Communicate your expectations of sick employees and the options that they have if they have sick kids at home. Keep your workplace and your workforce healthy by having clear policies and guidelines that are well communicated so that managers know how to best support people during this time. If you are implementing temporary policy changes to accommodate a crisis situation, communicate the changes clearly and often and let people know if and when the situation changes.
Be a Good Citizen
We advise you to keep practicing good citizenship and healthy habits. We hope you will aspire to be good, responsible, long-range investors. We encourage you to do your best to have a positive impact on the people, teams, companies, and communities you work with.
If there is anything at all we can do to help you and your teams at this time or during any time of change or crisis, let us know. Otherwise, go spread peace, joy, and happiness.
Keep calm and lead on.