How do we maintain control of our work lives? How can we keep a tight grip on processes, procedures, and outcomes? The honest answer is, we can't. There will be times in our leadership lives where we have no control of the situation at hand. Recently, companies have had to make the incredibly difficult decision to lay people off. Having to tell employees that regardless of their performance, they will no longer be employed by your company is every manager and leader's worst nightmare. To exacerbate this further, layoffs come with the pain of restructuring and organizational change.
I think we've all been involved in some sort of restructuring at some point. Often times, as leaders, we feel like we are getting the raw end of the deal because everything is always changing. Our people are asking questions that we don't have the answers to. Our bosses are giving us guidance that is vague and often times incomplete. We have to work within a certain level of ambiguity and charge ahead with little guidance or structure.
When leaders are faced with these kinds of situations, they often feel like they have no control of their future, the future of the company, and worse, the future of their people. Unfortunately, layoffs are a part of business and restructuring place a significant part in maintaining relevance as a company. So, how do we continue to lead well through the storm of losing control? How can we lead through uncertainty and maintain a trusting team culture? Is there a checklist so that we can just keep our heads above water?? I'm glad you asked!
We lead with the foundational practice of having G.R.I.T.
While there are many definitions and thoughts behind what grit is, my favorite is this. Grit is possessing indomitable spirit, having a drive for achievement regardless of upbringing or situation, earning success in the trenches through hard work. You have to have grit as a leader, individual contributor, entrepreneur, and as a motivated human. However, when it comes down to braving the storms of the unknown, let's break grit into G.R.I.T.
Grace: Grace isn't only reserved for the church. One definition of grace is "disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency". In English, grace is about kindness and forgiveness for yourself and others. As uncertainty spreads, mistakes will be made -yup, even you! Grace is about understanding that failure is a part of change and that learning from failure decreases the gap between uncertainty and certainty. Give yourself and your team grace to try, to fail, to feel, to grow, and to succeed.
Resiliency: Leadership is hard. The reason that the buffalo can withstand the brutal winter storms of the planes is because they have developed insanely thick skin. As leaders, we HAVE to have thick skin and be able to take and give constructive criticism. When we are faced with potentially unknown outcomes, we have to also be able to quickly and effectively adjust to change. We have to know that the storm will pass and once it's over, we will have developed thick skin because of what we learned through that storm, then, as the next storm approaches, we will know more than we did before and we will be able to adjust that much quicker.
Integrity: Zig Ziglar said that "Integrity gives you real freedom because you have nothing to fear since you have nothing to hide". Without integrity intact, no one will follow you. It's about doing the right thing when nobody is looking. Communicate what needs to be communicated with your teams about uncertainty and in no uncertain terms. The best tool for navigating the unknown is to be open with your communication. This will boost your integrity with your team and your organization.
Trust: "It takes two to do the trust tango--the one who risks (the trustor) and the one who is trustworthy (the trustee); each must play their role." - Warren Buffett. As you navigate the unknown, your team has to trust that you have their back. They also need to know that, while you have their best interest at heart, that you may not have control of that interest. Again, this is where open and honest communication pays dividends. Do what you say you are going to do, lead from the front, and apologize when you mess up - you will mess up. This will build a trusting bond between you and your teams and will make difficult decisions, like laying people off, easier and more helpful to everyone involved.
Leading through the storms of the unknown is one of the toughest things to do as a leader. As a leader, you are supposed to have all of the answers - or at least that's what you tell yourself. When unforeseen circumstances throw you into the uncertainty storm, rely on the G.R.I.T. foundation to guide you through the storm. If you lead with these values at the front of your mind, the storm will end, and you and your team will have braved the storm together and come out on the other side not only intact, but better prepared for the next one!