When you are leading people who are scared here are some do's and don'ts:
- Learn to be become emotionally resilient. In a recent study we found that this is the single biggest factor in dealing well with difficult and ambiguous situations. This means that you can control the balance between your emotions and thinking whilst still keeping in touch with your instincts and remaining empathetic. More about this.
- Give people a sense of positive direction and movement. This really helps when people are unsure and emotions are running high.
- Communicate lots and keep in touch with people. One of the biggest failures, especially in situations of flux and change is not to keep people with you every step of the way. You should be acting as if you are on a mountain in bad weather with poor visibility. You rope everyone together and move as a group.
- Listen lots. All to frequently when the going gets tough , managers and leaders become autocratic, start telling and stop listening. History is full of such instances where leaders wouldn't listen to 'negative talk'. This is a big mistake. Listening to everything can notify you of so much like how people are thinking and feeling, dangers on the horizon are closer and more. The special forces (SAS etc) have what is called Chinese Parliaments. These are group meetings where everyone regardless of rank or status can and are expected have their say and put forward ideas, thoughts or questions including criticisms of leadership decisions and thinking. This form of tough love has lots of advantages.
- Keep people busy and thinking. The more they have to think the less time they have to feel scared. So let them solve problems rather than what most leaders tend to do is do the solving themselves (often poorly - see this). Make sure any tasks you give people are real tasks. people know when they are just being kept occupied with meaningless tasks. Navigating difficult and ambiguous times is a team effort.
- Panic! Keeping your emotions is vital now. If others think that you are in a negative emotional state and making knee jerk reactions rather than using the resources around you, they are unlikely to follow willingly. Additionally you may find that people start to loose respect for you.
- Make decisions in isolation no matter how good you think they are. Test them out and modify them in the light of different thinking from others.
- Surround yourself with comforting people who think like you do. This will just lead to group think. Find diversity in views and challenge. Now more than ever everything, and I mean everything needs to be challenged. Failure in difficult and uncertain situations usually come about because of the assumptions people make that go unchallenged. Paradoxically right now you need people who will confront, contest and question, which is the opposite often of what most leaders do in difficult situations which is to surround themselves with people who will agree and make them feel comfortable with their decisions. This is another reason why you need to be emotionally resilient.
- Shoot down daft ideas. Right now you need all the creative, imaginative and innovative ideas you can get. Treat one idea with contempt or anything less than being very welcome and you will kill creativity stone dead. Even the daftest (to you) ideas could well lead to an opportunity or the solution you need. Far too many leaders and their teams shut down prematurely on ideas and never find that killer concept. Nurture all ideas and see what flowers.
- Try to control things too much. The normal response to difficult times is to start to put in place tougher controls. This is often a very big mistake as it stops great and creative things happening, those happy accidents that get you out of the pile of poo you are in. These are known in complexity theory as emergent properties and they can only really occur when things are allowed to flow. More controls are frequently a sign of an emotional response to what is seen as a negative situation. Chill, look for opportunities and play!