Leading through Uncertainty

Leading through Uncertainty

Kat took a risk outside her comfort zone and decided to take on a new leadership position at the beginning of 2020. She was nervous but also excited to get moving with her team and put the vision into place. Not even two weeks into her position, the world took a turn when COVID-19 began. Kat’s leadership position went from being an exciting challenge to a whirlwind of uncertainty. This was Kat’s first experience managing a large group. In her previous roles, she was led by people who were focused on their personal success over the teams and she was determined to create a more empowering and inclusive environment.

Kat decided to work on the aspects of her leadership and the team’s environment that she CAN control. She learned through her past sport experiences that the most prevalent themes for a high performing culture include a leader who cares about their players beyond the sport, has knowledge of the sport, involves the team in decision making and remains calm (Journal of Coaching Education, 2020 – Human Kinetics). Kat decided initially to focus on making sure everyone on her team felt heard and felt cared for during these uncertain times.

Leaders that try to control the things they cannot tend to become trapped in a vision cycle of unproductivity. They become focused on the outcome as opposed to the process. This creates a dynamic of false expectations and limits growth. When you can focus on the person and begin to understand how they are motivated, your teams productively can soar way beyond your expectations. Human behavior is unique to all and during a pandemic research shows that everyone acts differently. Some people hoard, others are calm and some are in a constant state of distress. However, we do know that people who are used to failure or challenges are more able to handle stressful situations. Kat’s experience in sport and life have allowed her to take the tools that she learned and remain calm and focus on the growth of her team.  

Kat first gathered her team online and stated that although she did not have all the answers, she planned on working with everyone to create a sustainable structure that fosters learning, collaboration and communication. Her goal was to create a sense of belonging. Kat took a page from Brene Brown, who noted in the book, Dare to Lead that, ”Adaptability to change, our conversations, feedback, problem solving, ethical decision-making, recognition, resilience, and all of the other skills that underpin daring leadership are born with vulnerability.”  This was an important message to create at the beginning while leading a team during a time of uncertainty. Vulnerability with boundaries is key to successful leadership.

Kat was there for each of her team members and made sure that everyone felt safe to speak about how they were feeling during this time. She also allocated a team member to put out resources for mental health and services to make it known throughout her team that it is ok to reach out. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and Government of Canada both offer resources regarding mental health and COVID-19. Kat also encouraged her team to practice mindfulness. 

In dealing with anxiety, the first step is labelling it, feeling it and letting it be. It is worse when we try to push it away and keep fighting it. Check out this video to learn more about dealing with anxiety and mindful living.

As time went by and the team slowly got to know each other, Kat incorporated some hard challenges and deadlines for the team to meet so she could see how they work together in times of adversity. Once she recognized the gaps that existed among the team, she could create a detailed process plan to work on these gaps to continue to enhance the team’s performance. 

Kat also watched and gathered information on who could find the silver lining within ideas or new concepts. Who could say “yes, let’s try” instead of “that’s too hard”. She was able to observe who had the ability to be productive, critically think and lead small groups.

Challenging your team to find the gaps in mindset is a wonderful tool for learning. Successful teams are able to adapt to change, deal with conflict, and are process-oriented. Remember, transparency is key to successful communication – and communication is essential for creating a high performing environment.

Once Kat got to know her team better, she began to introduce more humour and spontaneous activities into her group to keep things fun. In the past 3 months, if the team was performing high and getting results or if she found them tired and rundown, Kat would often incorporate a 4 day work week. 

Laughter helps people feel safe and creates a sense of belonging. Not to mention it is just down right better when you are working with a team that can create a fun and engaging environment.

Kat was able to unite her team from the beginning of the pandemic and cultivate a culture where people felt safe, challenged, and could perform at a high level. They found a way to work together remotely but also got to know each other in a way best suited to enhance the team’s productivity. Further, it enabled the team to collectively work together towards their strategic plan that was established at the beginning of the year. Although there are many ‘new normals’ in this COVID environment, if we work together and find the silver lining within each day, we are far better off than if we were stuck in the ‘days of impossible’.  

Over the first few months in her role, Kat continued to maintain a calm demeanour, positive mindset, and put her practices into place. She allowed her team to have a voice and focused on the following strategies to increase productivity and balance during this difficult time: 

  1. She remained calm during these uncertain times. This allowed her team to feel safe and create space for her to perform as a leader under pressure. She also made sure everyone had access to resources.
  2. Kat was able to show vulnerability to her team from the start which again allowed her team to be able to share their opinions and perspectives and in turn allow the group to collaborate at a quicker and more effective pace. She also added fun and humor to create a more positive working environment.
  3. Kat stayed in the moment once her long term goals were in place. The team remained process-oriented throughout the last number of months which creates a championship mindset.
  4. The team remained focused on controlling only the things in their control and freed themselves for the aspects that weren’t. This is a great workshop at the beginning of any project. 
  5. Kat established and reinforced the vision and values of the company and team.
  6. Finally, the group remained transparent through this uncertain time and will continue to as they move forward. When gaps are identified through a gap analysis, Kat will share constructive and positive feedback with the individual or team, to keep the environment productive, honest and process-oriented.


Be Kind. Be Bold. Be Great.