May 5, 2023

Three Steps to Lead Your Team Through Uncertainty

I feel like it’s all been raining down the past couple of weeks. It was the final show of the year for our high schooler, and another driver rear-ended her on the Friday before the show…totaling the car (no injuries! Thank the Lord!). I’ve been traveling and so has Michael. We had out-of-town guests. A few exciting business opportunities fell through.

We had intruder alarms mistakenly go off at two of our kids’ schools, one included the police responding with guns drawn. Incidents like these bring more than the fear and trauma of the event itself. As a former educator, the experience brings me right back to times I’ve silently run to lock doors, hiding students in corners and closets to protect us all.

And I’ve not even touched on what’s happening in the world at large…or in your world. Nearly everyone I’ve talked to is off-kilter — at best. How about you?

So how do you cope? How do you lead through difficult times?

A while back, I was having lunch with a new friend at a delicious Mexican place with straws too big for the glasses. I, of course, got over-excited with my hand gestures and knocked the straw, which sent ice and water cascading across the table. Immediately, the water slid into every crook and crevice on the table. I sopped up most of the water with my napkin and easily picked up the ice cubes. But throughout our conversation, I kept finding little damp spots in crooks and crevices of the table.

When difficulties pile up — personally, professionally, or culturally — shoving our emotions into a bedazzled box doesn’t actually work. Because, like my water at lunch, emotions spread and lurk in unexpected places, causing reactions that feel unconnected and a bit out of control.

The raw, hidden, or just misplaced reactions aren’t as easy to identify as the ice cubes on the table. They’re hidden in the crevices and look like lack of focus, short tempers, procrastination, withdrawal, exhaustion, grabs for control, or even hyperfocus on planning a vacation to Sydney that you have no intention of taking (not that I would know).

And this is happening for you, it’s also happening for folks on your team. Each individual has their own set of difficulties which shifts the team’s dynamics, efficiency, and productivity.

In circumstances like this, you may easily resort to shame. You may not label it as shame because it sounds like this: “UGH, why can’t I (or they) just get over this?” “What is wrong with me?” “This isn’t that big of a deal. Just do the work.” 

The healthy answer to these questions is, “You can’t ignore it and just work. But you can move through it.”

Here are three steps to leading yourself and your team during times of uncertainty:

1. Return your body and emotions to homeostasis (feeling calm and safe).

Difficult times flood your body with adrenaline and cortisol and emotions. If you don’t release them, they stay trapped in your body, wreaking havoc on your cognitive abilities.
TRANSLATION: You can’t think straight. The way through is processing and releasing. Deep breathing, quick intense physical activity, a big ugly cry, deep belly laugh, or talking it out with a friend all allow the body to return to safety. 

The most successful method I’ve found in the intense initial moments is Name, Rate, Find.
Name your emotion.
Rate the intensity.
Find the feeling in your body.
Regulating your emotions is most definitely not stuffing them down or ignoring them. Regulating them is allowing yourself to experience them and then release.

2. Examine your thoughts
Once your emotions are less intense and your body isn’t in fight or flight, move to your thoughts. I often use with clients (and myself!) questions such as:
Where did I get this information? Is it credible?
What are the reasons I think this is true?
What assumptions am I making?
What is the meaning I’m creating from this information? Or What is the story I’m telling myself — about me? About the other person? About the situation?

When you examine your thoughts, you start to uncover the reasons for your reactions. You can deal with the story you’re creating and find more objective facts.

3. Choose your response
Now you can choose a response, not a knee-jerk reaction. Your response can be to focus on work, create a new plan, allow time for the team to process, walk away from the Twitter feed, make a donation, or find more information…any number of positive responses are available when you act with intention.

You cannot lead your people well if you don’t lead yourself first. Once you’ve done this, you can create space for your people to walk through this as well. Ignoring stressful situations and expecting business as usual is destructive to you and your team.

By the end of our lunch of enchiladas and empanadas, the water had evaporated. It took a little time, but the cycle completed. Allow yourself some space this weekend to deal with your body, examine your thoughts, and choose your response so you and your team will do more than simply survive the difficulties. You will flourish.

(And if you just want someone to talk to, you can always email me. We can even hop on a call if you need some help moving through it all.)



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