Leading in Uncertain Times


When it comes to leadership, I am willing to bet that given a choice, most of us would prefer to be the type of leader who grew Netflix to success instead of Blockbuster into the ground. Of course, staying relevant in our industries is top of mind for most executives, but how do you lead your team through murky waters when innovation is overshadowed by uncertainty?

It goes without saying that this year has brought many surprises to many businesses. Now is a critical time to evaluate the state of your organization. Good leaders react to what is going on around them, but great leaders anticipate what is about to come. Is your business currently succeeding? Is your growth flat? Are you struggling? I invite you to take an honest look at that and come up with an honest answer. What are you doing currently that you would not do over again if you were starting entirely from scratch? Why are you still doing it?

These are hard questions to answer honestly, but we have to be willing to take a hard look if we want to continue to grow. Leaders can get stuck in the “curse of confidence” after too much time spent on the upswing. We start to believe we have the formula for success figured out, and then something like a global pandemic happens, and suddenly, what you thought you knew is wrong. Great leaders see possibilities before others do. So how do you become a great leader?

We have to train and develop ourselves to anticipate outside our fields of expertise. Nothing is permanent, and every industry should be viewed as ever-changing. Develop yourself and your staff, be willing to take a discerning look at your organization regularly, and consider how you can disrupt what things look like right now. Let’s take the grocery industry, for example. We can already see grocery stores shifting their model. The demand for delivery, curbside pick-up, and fast shipping on specialty items increased exponentially even before the world went into staying home mode. I believe that how we buy our groceries is going to drastically change in the future. Large retail spaces once housing grocery stores will quickly become the vacant spaces of retail America. As artificial intelligence continues to develop and can learn our individual buying habits, how many cheerios our kids eat per week, how green you like your bananas, the personal shopper experience will improve. Personally, I would be first in line to give up my weekly routine of spending an hour slugging myself through the grocery store.

Here are a few ways you can aid innovation in your business:

  1. Ask your customers – this is a cost-effective and straightforward way to get direct feedback from your revenue source on what they need and how you can continue to improve. Use challenges and complaints to your advantage by making your product or service easier to use or understand, eliminate inconveniences to your customers.
  2. Ask your staff – another cost-effective way to get your feedback. Staff are on the front lines of daily operations. Ask them what would make their jobs easier, more efficient, less stressful, or how you can support them in better pleasing customers.
  3. Pare it down – what can you eliminate from your product line or services list? This may seem counterproductive, but studies have shown that if your product catalog or service list is too overwhelming, they are more likely to choose nothing. Proctor & Gamble reduced the number of versions of its popular Head & Shoulders shampoo from 26 to 15 and saw a 10% increase in sales. Make it easy for them and for you to close the sale.
  4. Collaborate – find a complimentary product or service-based business that shares a similar philosophy to your organization and partner with them to share skills and enhance both your offerings. Legos was a suffering brand until they caught on to partnering with the movie industry to start offering character-specific sets with Star Wars and recognizable Disney faces. What partnership would enhance your current offerings?
  5. Copy someone else’s idea – Henry Ford saw the production line working in a meatpacking plant and then applied to the automobile industry to reduce assembly line times. The best ideas might come outside your industry, which brings me back to the recommendation to develop your skills beyond your field of expertise.

We are going to see significant changes across many industries in the months and years ahead. Only businesses positioned to pivot quickly will continue to survive and thrive in these uncertain times. Training your leaders and executives now to think outside the box will be crucial to long term growth.

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