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Graham Birkenhead, April 21 2020

Insidious Uncertainty - Leading in a Time of Crisis

While being tossed on the stormy Mediterranean, Odysseus kept Ursa Major on his starboard side and monitored the position of the Pleiades and Orion in order to stay on course. By keeping these universal truths in mind he was able to overcome uncertainty and navigate confidently.

The word ‘uncertainty’ is being used a lot lately – probably because it sums up how we feel about so many aspects of the situation we find ourselves in: we are uncertain about what exactly COVID-19 is, and whether we will get it and if we do how we will be affected. We are uncertain about how long it is going to be around – do we have to live with it forever? We are uncertain about what impact the measures we are putting in place will have on us as individuals, or families, our livelihoods, our plans and dreams. We are SO UNCERTAIN.

This is quite understandable – this is a new virus (or new to humans), in our lifetimes most of us have not experienced an epidemic, never-mind a pandemic, or a global lockdown where we know every economy is being impacted in a significant way. It is shaking the very ground we walk on – and we have no reference points to tell us what will happen next. There are theories – some better than others – some we want to believe less than others.

Part of our survival mechanism as human beings is to be afraid of uncertainty – we JUST DON'T LIKE IT. If we didn't care about stepping into uncertain situations, we would probably have taken ourselves out the gene pool long ago. When faced with uncertainty, it triggers us to go into some level of survival mode – we become more focused on our safety and security and questioning the level of control we have over our lives (or the perception of it).

Just like Odysseus, people need reference points. Solid facts upon which they can navigate their futures. Unfortunately, many of us are not too discerning about where we get that information from – we listen to our networks (friends and family and colleagues) and those we are connected to, our favourite news outlets. To fill in the inevitable gaps, we jump to conclusions (based on past experience), we grasp at straws. The information we absorb doesn't need to be rational – it just has to be believable. And, we will end up believing in the strongest story: who is saying it, who else is saying it and how often am I hearing it? Purveyors of fake news, misinformation and alternative truths use this effect to prey on us; in times of uncertainty, a confidently delivered story can be quite believable.

As business leaders, we certainly don’t have all the answers. People want to know is our business solid, what’s happening to our marketplace, what is government doing to help us, will I lose my job, can we still get supplies, etc. We can’t dispel all the uncertainty, but we do have a big part to play. We need to provide points of truth about our businesses and our environment that people, as did Odysseus, can use to navigate their futures. Here’s how:

And will you send us a reply?

We know that if you are the CEO or business owner, these are particularly challenging times. If anything written here or in any of our previous blogs rings a bell, just give us a call - we'd be very happy to chat with you – no strings. We’d also like to hear what challenges you are facing, what solutions you are coming up with, what does the future look like from your perspective?

Written by

Graham Birkenhead


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