Feel Like You’re Leading in the Dark? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I lead a team at a global bank that is going through constant upheaval and change. I have used Blanchard’s change model in the past to try to meet my people where they are and address their concerns. The problem with the latest change is that I don’t have any answers for my people. I really have no idea what is going to happen next. I’ve tried to get answers from my own boss about strategic direction, but he is either clueless or just not talking.

I’m so tired of trying to take care of everyone. I feel like saying “Look, I don’t know any more than you do. Please just do the job in front of you and be patient.” I feel like I’m failing as a leader because I just don’t know what to do.

Leading in the Dark

Dear Leading in the Dark,

Uncertainty is so uncomfortable. Neuroscience research reveals that we get flooded with stress hormones in the face of constant uncertainty and it does make it hard to persevere. You are experiencing that your people need to be talked off the ledge all the time, and it just takes it out of you.

For some perspective, I offer the story of Ernest Shackleton. He headed up an expedition to the South Pole during which his ship was crushed in the ice. He led his crew through quite extraordinary hardships and, remarkably, did not lose a single man. He didn’t know what the heck he was doing at any given moment either, but he kept a good attitude. This might make you feel better because at least none of your folks are going to starve, freeze to death, or drown.

I realize this sounds like I am being facetious, but I really am not. It is important to continually remind yourself that (generally, stock market crashes aside) nobody dies in banking. The most important thing you can do for your people is to do whatever you can to stay calm. Act as if everything is fine until you have definitive evidence that it isn’t. If you stay calm, your people will stay calm. So breathe, go for walks, meditate, play music in your office—anything you can do to get a grip and lighten the mood will be helpful.

Next, get your team involved in finding a way to deal with the uncertainty. You shouldn’t have to carry all of this by yourself. You are absolutely allowed to say “Look, I don’t know any more than you do. Please just do the job in front of you and be patient.” Your people aren’t children, so treat them like grownups and get them involved in figuring out how you can all thrive in this crazy environment. Sit down with the whole team and make a big flip chart picture of what you all can control and what is out of your control. Gain agreement as a group to stay focused on what you—as a team and as individuals—can control. Agree that you will all redirect each other to stay focused on what is within your control at any given moment.

Finally, get everyone focused on what is working and what they do well. If you use team meeting time to focus on the positive, you will literally change their brain chemistry. For example:

  • Have everyone point out people they enjoy partnering with to get things done.
  • Ask each person to list two of their top skills and how they are able to leverage them in their job.
  • Get each team member to take the VIA Character Strengths assessment and share the results with the team. It is free and fun.

You may have some nay-sayers who give you a hard time (there’s always at least one in every bunch). Who cares? At least you’re being creative by trying to lift everyone’s spirits instead of just being a victim of circumstances.

You can get through this, Leading in the Dark—and you and your team will be the stronger for it when you all get to the other side.

Love, Madeleine

About the author

Madeleine Blanchard Headshot 10-21-17

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

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