How Can Leaders Overcome Uncertainty?

The east coast of the United States is in a wait and see mode last week as we braced for a possible hurricane. Weather forecasts were all over the place with different predictions and possibilities of the path the hurricane will take. Will it hit land or will it go out to sea? If it does hit land, where exactly will it come ashore? Who will be affected and what will the damage look like? For many of us, dealing with uncertainty is unsettling as we immediately remember the challenges we faced with previous hurricanes.

After we get over our initial fears and concerns, many of us spring into action buying supplies for our homes (I still don’t understand why everyone buys bread, eggs and milk) and readjust our plans. We begin to prepare for the unknown.

In the same way, leaders constantly face uncertainty in our jobs and careers. Team members leave at what seems the most inopportune time. New information is added into the mix to analyze. Deadlines are moved up. Another higher priority project hits our desk. Our personal lives need our attention. How will everything get done and how can we possibly lead with so many missing pieces and uncertainty?

Leaders spring into action when uncertainty arrives.

To overcome uncertainty and not let it get the best of us, leaders:

Remain Calm and Breathe

When a significant change that we were not expecting knocks on our door, we need to stay clear minded. We can do this by stepping back and carefully evaluating what has happened. The worst thing we can do is panic or become paralyzed. De-stress by closing your eyes and taking 3 deep breaths.

Stay Positive

Whatever we do, we must see the glass half full when we are faced with ambiguity.

  • When we are positive we are less fearful.
  • When we are positive we can see opportunities.
  • When we are positive we can make better decisions.
  • When we are positive we can help others deal better with uncertainty.
  • Break Down the Necessary Steps

    In times of uncertainty a big picture may be too overwhelming to tackle. Carefully looking at the different pieces that may be affecting the unclear challenge, can be helpful. Make a list of the individual steps and how you might approach resolving them. Be as specific as possible.

    Uncertainty can be tackled in smaller steps to make it manageable.


    Once we know the steps we want to take, we need to decide which to tackle first. When working with managers in crisis, they often will say, “But all the steps are number one priority.” They all might be important but we need to choose. This piece trips many of us up and we avoid action. Prioritizing is key.

    Call in the Troops

    There’s nothing more comforting during times of uncertainty than working alongside someone else who understands our concerns.

  • Set up a meeting with your team or colleagues to roll out the critical issues
  • Brainstorm as many resolutions as time permits
  • Draw on the strengths and talents of people who surround you
  • Keep everyone informed with up to date information
  • Swivel

    During times of ambiguity we need to be flexible leaders, willing to make quick adjustments in a short timeframe. Working with a manager who lost several team members all at once, required the surviving teammates to take on unfamiliar responsibilities. It actually went so well because new skills and knowledge were learned and added to people’s toolkits.

    Avhieve Great Results

    The upshot of facing uncertainty is of course ending up with a strong outcome. So my mantra is always: Keep your eye on the prize. When we follow these beneficial strategies we can overcome uncertainty. (I’ll keep you posted about the hurricane).

    How do you lead in times of uncertainty? What strategies have worked for you?