At a recent workshop for one of my clients, we had a large group assembled on ZOOM, and the leader of the company kicked off the meeting emphasizing the uncertainty in the world and its effect on the company and its future. He wanted the group to acknowledge it, and to openly talk about how everybody was dealing with it: personally and professionally.
When he outlined his goals for our four-hour ZOOM session, he clearly wanted to start by dealing head-on with the discussion of uncertainty, as it was indeed the elephant in the room.
I decided the best question I could ask the group was the following:
“Please tell me how you were feeling in April, May and June respectively, and then tell me what you see happening in the next three months – July through September. When you go through your answers, think about the words ‘uncertainty’ and ‘opportunity’ and include them in your descriptions.”
One after another gave their update. Not surprisingly, themes started to emerge. As expected, April and May were months filled with uncertainty and fear, as they described watching the world spin out of control with Covid-19, ultimately shutting everything down for the first time in anybody’s life. Clearly, we had lost control, and business segment by business segment, was being ravaged by the shutdown at various levels of decline.
When the group discussed June, it was easy to see that some control had been regained. There were still many unknowns, but there were now many knowns as well. The Covid-19 discussion now included some data points that could help us make better decisions individually and as a company, to help us navigate our next steps. The group was still frozen in time to a certain extent, but whatever could be done to move forward was being done. It was no longer a question of if Covid-19 would affect the business, but when and how?
When the group got to the last question, an interesting thing happened. Opportunity overtook uncertainty, for the group, and for every participant in the ZOOM meeting. This client had been involved in shifting their business model to the internet to gain market share and revenue pre-coronavirus, albeit slowly. But with the rapid change brought on by Covid-19, and the work at home shift, the sense of urgency also shifted in everyone’s mind to accelerate building the online model.
The future was now driven by opportunity for the group. And it was not just around moving online more; many other opportunities had presented themselves. And they latched onto them, because they were in the right mindset to see them and move forward! There was, and will always be, some uncertainty to deal with, but as a group, the consensus was that they were excited for the future and the opportunities in front of them. As I write this blog, Covid-19 is roaring back in the US, but differently than March – they have a plan in place to deal with it. Again, it is not a question of “if” anymore, but “when and how” Covid-19 will affect us all.
So, think about your organization for a moment. Have you had the open and direct conversation with your employees and leadership team to find out how they are doing, feeling and what they are thinking? At times like this, it’s critically important to remember the phrase – “WIIFM” … What’s in it for me? When Covid-19 arrived, every person on the planet was affected in one way, shape or form. When we were all sent home in April, life shifted in many ways for so many people in the US and around the world. To not acknowledge the uncertainty, fear and overall concerns would have been wrong. To not acknowledge and understand that every single person was concerned for themselves, their families and loved ones first, would have been wrong. We are all human, and we were all concerned.
Jim Collins talks about the “Stockdale Paradox.” Admiral Stockdale was a prisoner of war for many years, and after gaining his freedom he was asked the question – “How did some make it out and others did not”? His answer surprised many – he said the optimistic did not make it out, because they set a date in their heads, and if they were not released by that date, then they became depressed and got worse. His advice was to, “Confront the brutal facts and then to keep an unwavering faith that things would work out fine.”
In the case of Covid-19, uncertainty is an undeniable brutal fact we have been living with and will be living with for some time. Acknowledge it; it’s real. The unwavering faith shifts the focus to the opportunity mindset.
As an entrepreneur for the past 30+ years, I am proud to look back and remember that both of my businesses were started and built during recessions. Yes, challenging times like we are in today include much uncertainty, but they are also filled with untapped opportunity.
So, are you leading with uncertainty thinking or opportunity thinking?