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Leading Through Uncertainty

When I woke up yesterday, I had to ask myself, “Is this really happening, or did I just dream it?”   Recent events feel so surreal that I had to do a self-check.  Current events are playing out more like a Sci-Fi movie than life as we’ve ever known it.    

Back in January we crafted our editorial calendar to reflect a new division we're launching in June — Executive + Leadership Recruitment. Working towards our launch, we were excited to develop a content series on The Changing Shape of the C-Suite. Now, with COVID-19 as our backdrop, I feel like there's no better time to begin our 6-part series. 

Part One:  VUCA is the new normal   

VUCA is a military-turned-management buzzword describing the realities business leaders face today: volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.  I know there are some that believe the term VUCA is overused and serves as nothing more than an ‘empty consolation’ to those looking to avoid developing a sound strategy. I get it.   

But then a global pandemic hits -- and we experience VUCA at a feverish pitch.  Never has there been such a collision of volatility and uncertainty.  When you combine financial turbulence with a viral whirling dervish you get a perfect storm. How then shall we lead?   

Leading through uncertainty. 

Uncertainty hovers like a dense fog in a thick forest.  Leaders of leaders (aka the C-Suite) need to shake hands with uncertainty, find creative solutions in ambiguity, break down the complex, and confront volatility. Uncertainty is a permanent and pervasive element in the C-Suite landscape. It never goes away. It’s also why we need leaders. If certainty was a possibility, leaders would not be necessary. The challenge for leaders is not to remove uncertainty, but to navigate it successfully 

Be certain that you’re uncertain.

Acknowledge uncertainty.  Uncertainty is more believable than certainty.  Certainty often ignites BS detectors. There are many pathways that can take you from one place to the next and nearly all strategic plans require course corrections. Own it.  

Hold your vision as sacred. Hold everything else loosely. 

Your vision needs to be crystal clear.  In times of uncertainty people need to know what you’re aiming for and why you’re in pursuit of it.  If vision fades, you’ll lose any shot at securing commitment.  

Name the story. Worry is not a plan. 

Separate the known from the unknown. What do you know for certain?  What remains uncertain? Identify what you have control over and what you don’t.  Of the things you have control over, where will your focus provide the highest return? Storytelling doesn’t serve C-Suite teams, it steals resources. Name your stories and call them out for what they are – pure fiction and conjecture.

You can be uncertain, but you can’t be unclear. 

As Andy Stanley suggests, “People will follow you in spite of a few bad decisions. People will not follow you if you are unclear in your instruction. As a leader you must develop the elusive skill of leading confidently and purposefully onto uncertain terrain. Next generation leaders must fear a lack of clarity more than a lack of accuracy. The individual in your organization who communicates the clearest vision will often be perceived as the leader. Clarity is perceived as leadership.”  

Be optimistic, they’ll follow your lead.

Confront uncertainty with optimism. The C-Suite sets the tone when it comes to optimism. Optimism is often misunderstood and undervalued. When you embrace uncertainty, you need something to hold on to.  Optimism is the jet fuel that propels teams towards vision. Optimists are better leaders. They see the big picture, rally people towards a brighter future and elicit great work from their leaders and teams.  

Be decisive. Enter the danger. Ship it. GETMO. 

Patrick Lencioni calls it entering the danger.  Seth Godin refers to taking decisive action as ‘shipping it’.  Craig Groeschel coined the term, GETMO – Good enough to move on.  If C-Suite leaders aren’t prepared to enter the danger and ship it, then the rest of the team sure won’t. Shipping is fraught with risk and danger.  Who says when we’re GETMO? C-Suite leaders foster a culture of safety where their leaders can assess GETMO and ship with confidence.  

Agree and commit, disagree and commit, or get out of the way.

The late Andy Grove, past CEO of Intel, introduced the ‘Disagree and Commit’ principle with a two-pronged objective: 

  1. Encourage leaders to disagree when making an important decision 
  1. Unite leaders in committing to the decision once it has been made 

Today’s C-Suite leaders have their work cut out for them as they build agile, empowered, vision-fueled teams. They’ll need to master the art of navigating uncertain waters, make decisions in absence of all the facts, lead with optimism, and communicate with crystal clarity.  


Peter Reek | Founder and CEO

Peter Reek

CEO + Founder

Peter founded Smart Savvy as a response to a gap in the recruitment industry. As a leader, entrepreneur, and specialist in group moderation and facilitation, Peter brings an experienced, people-first perspective. He passionately believes that in work and life, People are the Plan™.




Smart Savvy + AssociatesSmart, Savvy + Associates are experts in helping marketing and communications leaders find people and develop teams that thrive and deliver inspiring results. As a people performance company, we specialize in finding marketing and communications talent in the Pacific North West. We also offer training programs for leaders and teams as well as options to become a certified coach or get coached.

Peter Reek

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