Leadership Strategies for Navigating Disruption


In my regular column in choice, the magazine of professional coaching, you can find tips and strategies for how to navigate uncertainty as a leader, and how to coach leaders who face unprecedented disruption and uncertainty now.

The Sticky Situation: I’m coaching a leader whose people are asking for answers because everything is uncertain. Normally my client provides the strategies and support that the team needs, but the pace of change is happening so fast that the leader is no longer able to help his people navigate
the uncertainty, and that is making him question his value and leadership ability. What can I do as a coach to help my client regain confidence in his role and his leadership?

The Solution:

We live in an era of disruption.  Disruption brings gifts and opportunities. Some leaders intentionally cause disruption to grow or innovate or reinvent. Others struggle to manage the stress and overwhelm that comes with the disruption of their industry, business, or career. We coaches help leaders navigate the chaos of disruption, whether they find themselves disrupted or are intentionally causing it. The new normal seems to be uncertainty. Yet, our brains crave certainty. It’s a prime need without which our amygdala gets hijacked. The good news is you can support your client to create certainty, even when circumstances remain uncertain. If the new normal is disruption and uncertainty and VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) for the foreseeable future, leaders will need to navigate that regularly. You can help him to reframe for himself (and then his people) moving from the operating stance of crisis and survival and uncertainty (victim) to a more empowered (creator) stance. Disruption brings gifts and opportunities. He can shift to provide certainty, practice gratitude, and increase resilience.

Create certainty
When there is a lot of uncertainty, fear throws people into survival mode, which floods their brains and nervous system with stress chemicals, hijacking their ability to logically problem-solve. When a leader creates certainty, it allows people to bring their best frontal cortex contributions to the fore.  Leaders can create certainty by letting people know when they’ll make a decision, or when they’ll have more information. Anything you can communicate that gives people a sense of certainty and control will serve the solution. Amiel Handelsman says there “are three conversations you can initiate to calm others’ nervous systems: “How we will decide”, “What happens next”, and “What we can offer”.“ There is always some type of certainty to be created. Empower your client to seek what is certain amidst the uncertainty.

Transform attitudes
Leaders can model for others how to transform attitudes and beliefs that must shift to meet the needs of the new reality. Thinking must shift and old frameworks or mental models that worked before may not work going forward. Embrace not knowing and leverage intellectual humility to develop the attitudes that will allow growth. Leaders can consciously practice gratitude in the culture.

Experiment to innovate
When leaders come from a creative place of service, they can let go of what they know worked, of what they think they know from experience, and they can look forward into the future to design experiments that will allow space to innovate into the new reality that disruption will open up. Uncertainty can bring gifts and opportunities. Experiment without attachment to specific results, and allow innovation to emerge from uncertainty.

Resilience is the ground floor of innovation

Leadership is challenging under the best of circumstances, yet even more so during times of disruption…whether that disruption is intentional or not. It means your client gets to choose and create a new way of leading. Help him to master the ability to cause intentional neutrality as he navigates the chaotic waters around him. He can provide value to employees who are constantly bombarded with various forms of being disrupted by recognizing resilience. Help him design and craft who he wants to be in the face of uncertainty. Rich ground indeed for coaching!


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