Uncertainty. No one likes it… but every one of us faces it at one point or another. I believe it’s in times of uncertainty and trouble that leaders earn their keep.
The two largest temptations leaders face in times of turbulence and uncertainty surround two paramount elements team members need from them:
- Their Communication
- Their Consistency.
When situations are uncertain, our human tendency is to default into ambiguity. We talk in vague terms because we are not sure about tomorrow. It makes sense. However, teams are desperately looking for clear direction. Additionally, in times of struggle and adversity, leaders can slip morally. It is tempting to fudge a bit here or there on the decisions in front of them, in the name of saving face or saving money. Ethics get fuzzy and can drift from center, and all the while, we can excuse poor decisions. In the end, the leader’s patterns change, sending signals that spark fear in followers.
So what do people need most from their leader in these times?
People need leaders to be even more crystal clear in their communication during times of trouble. Just when leaders might be tempted to fudge a bit and be fuzzy in their communication due to uncertain times, teams need them to clarify exactly what the plan of action is. Clarity energizes people. Clarity activates people. Clarity gives people hope. In addition, leaders must over-communicate during these difficult times. The fact is—people are down on what they’re not up on.
It’s interesting. Just when leaders might be tempted to take an ethical shortcut (to make it through a tough time) is the very period their teams need them to raise the bar on integrity. It’s an inverse relationship. The time people need you to model a spotless code of conduct and values is the time you want to escape into hiding, drop your moral guard, and just survive.
Let me illustrate what can happen when we fail to offer people these two qualities.
Dr. Jonathan Shay, a clinical psychiatrist who specializes in the treatment of combat trauma, writes about the war-related Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in soldiers who returned from Vietnam. In his book Achilles in Vietnam, Dr. Shay underscored the role of character in leaders. One major reason for trauma in Vets was unethical leadership in their officers. In other words, it wasn’t just about the bombs and bullets around them—it was the unpredictable and spineless leaders among them. No clarity. Insufficient character. This is frightening.
General Norman Schwarzkopf once said, “Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one—be without strategy.”
When people fail to hear clear words from leaders or fail to see character-based decisions in those leaders, it creates trauma during difficult times. This is a simple reminder to exhibit clarity and character… especially in difficult times.
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