With today’s competitive landscape changing about as fast as you can say, “competitive landscape,” leaders need to be able to adapt, face the unknown and act with certainty in uncertain situations. Whether it’s the battlefield or the boardroom, leaders must make decisions quickly to stay relevant and avoid becoming obsolete.
That said, it also takes awareness to know when the best time is to be the right leader in the right setting.
We had a saying in the SEAL Teams whenever we were on target, “Let the situation dictate.” Allowing circumstances to unfold without employing any preconceived biases allowed us to both adapt to the enemy threat in real time and contain chaos rather than create more.
How do people maintain a presence of mind and think clearly when the odds say otherwise? Here are four tips for leaders to find certainty in uncertain situations:
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Identify your purpose. When bullets or insults are flying back and forth, remember the purpose that brought you here. Purpose provides focus. It offers direction and guides decision making. A leader’s purpose is the underlying belief for being and thus answers the “why the hell am I doing this” question that seems to arise at the most inopportune times. If your purpose runs askew or falls into that gray between justice and injustice, right and wrong, then so do your values and—as well as those you lead.
Accept and assess. If you can’t change, influence, or repeat the factors that produced your current situation, then the only option left is to accept it. Acceptance offers closure and with closure comes conviction and opportunity. The first time I got shot (yes, you read that correctly) there wasn’t much I could do about it except learn from any mistakes. Of course, I probably didn’t do a good of it since I got shot again a couple deployments later.
The point is that when situations are obscure or lack clarity, don’t panic, just accept the circumstance for what it is and assess ways to overcome it. Consider this: If you’re a leader and your brand is getting bombarded by the competition, incoming mortar rounds, or both, then it really doesn’t matter what direction you move in, just so long as you move.
Have a backup plan. Always have a “go to” in your back pocket when things go awry—a second, third, and fourth course of action to call upon when an audible is needed. This way, you’re always ready to adapt. Doing so allows you to keep momentum and focus on the “next state” along which learning opportunities exist, rather than accept a sub-par “end state” where opportunities surrender.
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Of course, there’s a balance here. Too much of any one thing is just that—too much. Over planning can stifle decision-making and lead stakeholders to the point of analysis paralysis, where they “nuke” an idea to the extent that it would actually be easier to forego the plan altogether—or just go play in traffic. Find the inflection point where the fear of facing conflict and the fear of not facing it converge (and stay out of traffic).
Redefine uncertainty. Just because things get a little chaotic doesn’t mean the zombie apocalypse has arrived. Believe it or not, uncertainty is healthy. It reminds leaders of their purpose and passion for why they lead; it injects abnormality into an otherwise normal routine and prevents leaders from falling into Einstein’s definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
The one thing that doubt, indecision, risk aversion, or any myriad momentum stoppers have in common is that they all serve as cruxes of choice. They are either a reason to revert back to what one knows and reclaim assurance, or a cause to test oneself, grow, and become better. Make the right choice.