Creating a picture during uncertainty

One thing we can guarantee in life is change. Even if we chose to control our lives to minimise change, we cannot control external factors that influence how we do our work or live our lives. Covid-19 is such an example. During the period of crisis and national lockdown, businesses had to adapt overnight and discover alternative ways of working. Some sadly couldn’t provide services and were forced to close their doors; for them, the uncertainty of when and how they could resume has lasted for many more months than perhaps anyone expected. People typically find uncertainty to be aversive, experiencing feelings such as anxiety, frustration and anger (Carleton, 2016b)*. It is therefore imperative that leaders consider how they support teams through times of uncertainty. Don’t underestimate the need for regular communication, both at an individual and team level. If your organisational priorities have shifted, ensure everyone knows why, and most importantly, how their role supports the achievement of these goals. Make time for individuals to ask questions and to share their concerns. Whilst you can’t be certain you’ll have all the answers; actively listening will build rapport and help staff feel valued.

Imagine you and your team are completing a jigsaw but the only person who knows what the box top image is like is you! It could be a time-consuming and emotive process, where everyone is trying to contribute without the satisfaction of realising progress. But if you clarify the image on top of the jigsaw box, you provide clarity enabling everyone to work towards the same goal. It’s no different in business – your role as a leader is to help others understand the vision and key priorities and how collectively you can work towards this. As we venture into a different normal, doing this regularly helps manage uncertainty.

It is worth noting that for some this period of rapid adaptation has realised changes that under normal circumstances may have taken months or years. The successful adoption of digital technology for medical consultations; team meetings or education, for example, has demonstrated that industries can, in fact, adapt how they offer their services and can explore more flexible and agile ways of working for their people. As a team, take time to reflect on your achievements: how you worked together; the positive changes you have introduced and use this learning to inform future initiatives. The active process of reflection can support individuals to recognise their contributions and how they adapted during periods of uncertainty. This helps to build personal resilience, a vital resource when we are working in ever-changing environments.


*Carleton, R. N. (2016a). Fear of the unknown: one fear to rule them all? J. Anxiety Disord. 41, 5–21. doi: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2016.03.011