The current business landscape is filled with uncertainty as companies face mass layoffs, inflation, and a potential recession. During times like this, employees look up to their leaders for direction and reassurance.
Good leaders live up to those expectations by knowing how to inspire and guide employees through tough times.
In this article, we’ll explore what employees expect from leaders in times of upheaval. We’ll also share six strategies leaders can take to support their teams and help them with navigating uncertainty at work.
How to be an inspiring leader
So what do employees expect from their leaders in today’s workplace issues? They don’t need someone who has all the answers. Your employees are bright, and they know you’re dealing with an unsettled future too.
They need someone who can help them while navigating uncertainty at work. Inspiring leaders should know how to:
- Empower employees: The best leaders know how to empower their employees. When people are left to wonder about their futures, anxiety skyrockets. You should be able to give your teams the knowledge and direction they need to act rather than passively waiting to be acted upon.
- Proactively identify and address concerns: Leaders can’t shy away from the issues if they want to help their teams. When rumors of mass layoffs or budget cuts start swirling, employees want to know that you can answer their concerns and communicate where the company stands, even if you don’t have all the answers just yet.
- Provide career coaching: Leaders should help employees build career paths to reach their employment goals. You need to know how to get them on the right track with useful employee development and work experience.
The good news is that to be an inspiring leader in uncertain times; you don’t have to be born with just the right qualities. You need strategies that will help you exercise and develop those qualities.
6 strategies for navigating uncertainty at work
Here are six tips for becoming the leader your employees need when the future is in question and succeeding in navigating uncertainty at work:
1. Be transparent and realistic
Be upfront with your team about what the company’s facing and how it might impact them. This shows employees they can rely on you in difficult times.
People will lose their trust in you if you don’t disclose information they need to know. Trying to soften the blow by withholding information until you have all the answers can create more stress for employees as rumor mills fill in the gaps.
Instead, communicate regularly and honestly with your team. Be upfront about any challenges the organization is facing and the steps being taken to address them.
Being realistic and transparent also means accepting that some things are beyond your control. For instance, during the pandemic, there were times when the situation changed rapidly, and leaders had to make quick decisions.
It’s okay not to have all the answers, and leaders should admit when they don’t know something—with reassurance that they are working toward a solution.
Knowing you’re being thoughtful about their issues will help your employees build trust.
2. Learn to make tough decisions and hold difficult conversations
Leaders must be able to make tough decisions that may not be popular with everyone. It’s easy to be inspiring and encouraging when you’re hitting all your goals and the company’s on a positive trajectory.
But you may need some practice when dealing with uncertainty and announcing unpopular decisions. During an economic downturn, leaders must make hard calls on layoffs, pay cuts, or furloughs.
Such decisions can impact employees’ lives and morale, and you must communicate the reasons for the decision. You should be empathetic and provide support to those affected by the decision.
Be prepared by brushing up on crucial soft skills like:
- Resolving conflict
- Stress management
- Active listening
- Emotional intelligence
Making tough decisions also means being open to feedback and criticism. Leaders may face backlash or criticism for the choices they make. Handle these moments by listening to feedback and acknowledging and learning from mistakes.
By doing so, you build trust and show that you’re willing to take responsibility for your decisions while navigating uncertainty at work.
3. Ask for help
Some things are beyond your control, so feel free to ask for guidance. This can help you gain perspective and find new ways to support your team members.
When you’re struggling with difficult decisions or challenging conversations, seek out the advice and support of other leaders, mentors, or coaches. Reach out to your network or a community within your industry to find out how others have handled similar challenges. Be open to new ideas and perspectives.
Asking for help also means being willing to delegate tasks and responsibilities. When the future is in doubt, and things are coming at you fast, you may be overwhelmed with work. Don’t try to handle everything alone. Trust your team members and delegate tasks to them.
Sharing the load is also a way of empowering your team and showing them you value their contributions.
4. Foster a culture of collaboration
Encourage your team members to work together and share their expertise. When you’re looking for answers or a new direction, collaboration can boost innovation, helping generate new ideas, solutions, and approaches.
Collaboration can also build a supportive team where employees feel safe and trust that you’ll do your best. This is key for navigating uncertainty at work.
As a leader, you should also be open to feedback and suggestions from your team members. Find ways to show them you’re in this with them.
For instance, harness the diversity and experience of your team by encouraging people to work together to solve problems and find new ways of doing things. Hold brainstorming sessions on short-term, low-risk issues that need to be solved.
Give your employees chances to be together and create a sense of teamwork. Plan simple activities or lunchtime Q&As where people can ask questions and share their concerns with the team.
5. Provide support and resources
Diminish the effects of uncertainty by giving your employees the direction and resources they need to manage their workload and maintain their wellbeing.
If you’re feeling the pressure of an unknown future, you can be confident your team is also overwhelmed or stressed. Help alleviate the stress by investing in them, their careers, and their wellbeing.
This may involve offering additional training or coaching, flexible work arrangements, or mental health resources. For instance, provide courses on things like:
- In-demand skills that will help them remain highly employable
- Financial wellbeing to help them prepare for the future
- Stress management to help them avoid burnout
You may not be able to remove all the uncertainty from the employee experience, but you can reduce the load by showing employees your support for them and their future.
6. Lead by example
Finally, inspiring leaders should lead by example. Demonstrate the qualities you expect from your team members, such as empathy, resilience, and adaptability.
Engage in training that will help recession-proof your business. Share information as soon as you can. Provide a listening ear. Admit when you don’t know something or when you’ve made a mistake.
And then move forward. Show your team members that you’re willing to take risks, learn from your mistakes, and embrace new challenges. Don’t just point them in the direction of a more secure future.
Show them how to get there.
Navigating uncertainty means being the leader you would want
Employees look to their leaders for direction and reassurance, especially during challenging times.
As you reflect on your leadership style, ask yourself what you would want from a great leader now. Likely you’d want someone who shared information and didn’t hesitate to discuss difficult decisions.
No one knows what the future holds. And navigating uncertainty at work is crucial in such times. But when you invest in your leadership skills and your team, you’ll have a much greater chance of weathering changes and coming out ahead.