Five Steps to Deal with Leadership Uncertainty

by Dr. Maria Church, CSP, CPC

Leaders are often expected to have all the answers. Not only is this an expectation shared by many, it is regularly self-imposed. If you do not have the answer to a leadership challenge, you may possibly feel inadequate or uncertain and vulnerable. None of these emotions feels good, and they are often frowned upon in the workplace — or so you may have been taught.

Really? Are you really never supposed to experience uncertainty as a leader? You are a human being and hard-wired for struggle — stuff happens. You are comprised of all the good, bad and ugly that comes with being a human, which is not the Hollywood version of leaders who ride into the scene to save the day. And with your humanness, you will sometimes — make that many times — feel uncertain about your abilities.

How do you work with uncertainty and vulnerability without going crazy? Follow these five steps which will assist you during these times:

  1. Embrace uncertainty and vulnerability. Reach into any doubts and fears you have and pull up and out all the anxieties and doubts. What do most leaders do with this uncertainty? Well, bury it, of course. This strategy of burying and numbing may work for a while, that is until it shows up again as illness, ulcers or worse. Why do you think people in leadership roles are so stressed, obese and addicted? It is because feelings get buried and numbed.

The interesting thing about the numbing strategy is that when you numb your “bad” feelings such as uncertainty, vulnerability, doubt and fear, you are also numbing your “good” feelings of joy, peace and gratitude.

  1. Stay present. Do not worry about the future or live in the past. The only moment you have to live in is the present one, so why waste it? The nature of uncertainty is that the future is unknown. Time spent fretting about what might happen is just an exercise in fiction.

What does living and embracing the present moment bring? This moment of uncertainty and vulnerability is where creativity, joy and beauty are found. Great art is created in the vulnerable state of uncertainty and presence in the moment. Walking through the door of uncertainty and vulnerability is full of endless possibilities because this is the location of your true, authentic self. Peace is found in authenticity.

  1. Stay in your own lane. When you start to compare yourself to others, you set yourself up for failure. It is not because you cannot be as successful as someone else can be, but because you cannot be anyone else. The only thing you can be is the best version of you — your best, authentic and true self.

This can be a challenge during times of uncertainty because you may see others who are dealing with uncertainty with more ease. Instead of going to a place of comparison, pull away and observe. Has this other person tapped into the present moment? Are the creative juices flowing for that other person? Are they peaceful because they are authentically in touch with their fears, concerns, or excitement about possibilities? Observe, learn, and know that you will find the most peace when you aren’t pretending but are authentically you.

  1. Practice gratitude. Nothing else will bring you into the present moment faster than gratitude. When you practice gratitude, you are reminded of the blessings and opportunities that surround you right now. The funny thing about being in a state of gratitude is that when you focus upon that for which what you are grateful, you receive more. Yes, more.

That which occupies your mental and spiritual focus shows up in all aspects of your life. Therefore, if you are focusing on those factors that make you grateful, you will have more of those results showing up.

Remember that the converse if also true. If your focus is on worry, fear and a scarcity mentality, get ready for more worry, fear and lack showing up. Your thoughts are a powerful force, so be intentional and strategic about where you put your focus.

  1. Be loving and truthful with yourself and others. Be gentle and graceful with yourself and others during times of uncertainty. All the feelings you are having in these times, just know that others are having them, too. When you practice loving kindness, you will find patience, grace and empathy. Tell yourself the truth about how you are feeling and be prepared for both positive and negative feelings and thoughts coming back to you. Honor and acknowledge all the responses you receive and intentionally shift to more supportive and loving feelings and thoughts. How do you shift? Do what gives you joy and be present to fully enjoy that activity. The only certainty we have is the present. What is certain is what gives you joy. It really can be that simple in what seems like great complexity.

Remember that uncertainty and vulnerability is the birthplace of truth, authenticity, creativity and beauty. If you choose (yes, it is your choice) to step into and embrace the uncertainty, stay present in the moment with gratitude and give yourself loving grace, you will find tremendous opportunities in uncertainty to help shape a future that you may not have otherwise dreamt possible.

Maria Church, Ph.D., CSP, CPC, is a speaker, consultant, and executive coach. As CEO of Dr. Maria Church International, including government and corporate divisions, and Leadership Development University, she specializes in organizational culture, change agility and leadership development with more than 25 years working for Fortune 500, local government, nonprofit and academia. Her 10th Anniversary Edition of Love-Based Leadership will be released in December 2020.

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