By Larry Robertson
An unpredictable economic environment doesn’t mean you can’t succeed as a leader, if you remember how to stay above the fray.
Today’s environment for business owners is unpredictable, but that isn’t entirely new. In a 2018 PwC leadership survey of nearly 2,000 leaders across sectors, 82 percent described their future and the future of their organizations as unpredictable. The following year, leaders in the same survey went further admitting that “curbed confidence” has now joined “unpredictability’ as the best way to describe the state of affairs in business.
While sobering, an unpredictable environment does not mean that entrepreneurs are not succeeding.
Quite the opposite, some are thriving in this environment precisely because they’ve embraced it, building their strategies and, more importantly their organizational cultures, around the expectation of constant change and around adaptability as a strategic mindset and competitive advantage.
Sometimes, however, even the unpredictable becomes more so, like the current uncertainty surrounding the impact of the coronavirus and the upcoming U.S. presidential election. It less about the incidents themselves and more about the way people are so quick to panic before information is clear and plans for coping can be devised.
In such moments, even the best leaders aren’t immune. But, importantly, you have a choice, the choice between panic and prudence. In a calm moment, you know which you should choose. Here are three ways to stay on track when calm is replaced by chaos — three things that ensure you’ll stay above the fray and stay on top.
Separate fact from fiction.
What do you know to be true? It’s a question you should be asking yourself not just more often, but daily. It’s also a question you may think you’re too busy for, and you’ll just get to it later. Don’t wait.
When you do ask it, the emphasis should be on the word ‘you.’ When a wave of new conditions sweeps across a market, the country, or the planet, the fact is that very little, if anything, about the new wave can be known with certainty. The mistake is trying to pin down uncertain data too early as facts, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t facts.
Have a clear understanding of who you are, what you’re in business to do, and what you’re capable of, regardless of the prevailing conditions. The best leaders distinguish themselves by not waiting to determine these facts until after trouble arrives. Knowing your company’s shared purpose and true strengths–which are often apart from your assets, market share, or bottom line status–are the key factors that separate fact from fiction. As simple as that sounds, few businesses make these things a priority and an operational habit. And because they don’t, they are more vulnerable to chasing fiction and losing focus.
Focus on the framework, not the formula.
Facts in any form are just ingredients, they are not solutions. Yet we hunger for facts, and one reason has to do with our longing for formulas and their implied certainty. In an environment that’s constantly shifting, certainty is what you long for, which is precisely why operating plans, job descriptions, and success measures too quickly get treated as though they’re formulaic. But in truth, formulas, and likewise plans and measures, are supportive and temporary. They serve a larger dynamic and a broader framework defined by your company’s shared purpose, culture, and strengths, and the environment in which it plies its trade. In this currently wobbly world, if you fixate on the formulas and forget the frame, you’re almost assured of being caught flat-footed when the unpredictable arrives.
Don’t force it, build a force.
This last lesson in staying above the fray and thriving has to do with leadership itself. Chaos or calm, as a leader you simply cannot go it alone. Yet, even in an increasingly uncertain world, that is precisely what a majority of small business owners still attempt to do. If you want your business to thrive, shared leadership is the vital ingredient. It’s not just that more eyes or brains help an organization see and think more clearly, it’s that employees truly empowered to lead are more likely to see opportunities and threats sooner, to innovate and implement solutions faster, and to inform and calm their peers’ fears so that they feel justifiable confidence in their ability to move forward and help the business succeed.
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