Practice of the Month

“What If?” Scenarios Often Create Uncertainty, Not Clarity

“What If?” Scenarios Often Create Uncertainty, Not Clarity

For a leader, clarity can be very challenging. Especially in times of heightened stress, the “What If?” scenarios tend to create uncertainty, not clarity. When your world lacks certainty, your brain automatically searches for patterns to calm down.

When the pace of change increases, your brain must work even harder. Yet not all change is equal. For many leaders, workplace disruptions can produce significant anxiety.

In an earlier Practice of the Month, we met Liz, a long-time CFO of a company that was abruptly sold to a large conglomerate. It quickly became apparent to Liz that the family atmosphere, once held as a core value, was being replaced by a laser focus on the bottom line. Cost containment became the primary focus. Many long-time employees and Liz were stunned by the rapid decisions and subsequent cultural change. When Liz was asked to work with the legal department on separation agreements for a few key leaders, she worried privately about her own future. Several weeks later, Liz was called in and handed her separation agreement (that she had helped write!). Let the uncertainty begin!

For Liz, initial anger morphed into relief. Liz was glad to be out of a company she no longer recognized, and her severance gave her time to look for new opportunities. However, it didn’t take long for Liz to become increasingly anxious. With an economy teetering on recession, employers were reluctant to make any major moves. Employee churn slowed as workers were hesitant to change jobs- thus, CFO openings were scarce. A few applications and a handful of interviews later, a still unemployed Liz continued to watch her savings dwindle. In her 50s, with her former confidence shattered, she wasn’t sure what was next. For Liz, the uncertainty was the hardest part.

As a leader, what can you learn from Liz’s story?

  1. In a VUCA world, uncertainty abounds. Suppose your industry is in flux, calling into question past strategies. What should you focus on? A key anchor is to Lead with Conviction. Remember to act boldly, take clear stands and be willing to take risks. Uncertainty shouldn’t change your core values. Your core values are your foundation.
  2. Leaders often confuse their “self” with their “role.” Your role is your title at a particular place of employment or the moniker of “entrepreneur.” These titles can come and go- sometimes not of your choosing. “Self” is the core value that you hold dear. Be clear about those values and let them guide your next steps.
  3. Practice Six-Second Centering. This practice helps your body tone down your “high alert.” The steps are easy: Close your eyes and put your feet flat on the floor, feeling the floor beneath your feet. Sit up straight and inhale deeply while you lengthen your spine. Lastly, exhale slowly as you relax your jaw, shoulders, and chest.

Remember: your body and your mind are connected. You can use your body to unhook your mind from stress. Try it!

For more information on how to manage anxiety, especially in anxious times, go to the Resilient Leadership Podcast #12 - Navigating Leadership Anxiety

Stay tuned for our May Practice of the Month.
This article was contributed by Mike Nowland and John Moyer, Resilient Leadership Trainers.

John Moyer

John Moyer has 30+ years of experience training and coaching both student and adult leaders. His focus is primarily on individual coaching along with targeted training engagements as a complement to his teaching career.

Mike Nowland

Mike Nowland is a persuasive and empathetic communicator with over 30 years of senior-level experience in Leadership Development and Human Resources with companies like Marriott International, ResMed, and Kisco Senior Living.

Get 9 Practical Tips to Build Leadership Effectiveness

  • Learn more about your level of self-differentiation
  • Receive a full report that includes an explanation of the three key areas that characterize well-differentiated leaders.
  • Take the FREE RL Self-Assessment