How do leaders lead during such uncertainty?


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I am struggling. This national divisiveness and cloud of uncertainty are stressing me out. I wear a Fitbit and notice an appreciable change in my heart rate when I read the paper, watch the news or even check out what friends are posting on social media.

I’ve noticed that I’ve begun to seek refuge in my business. I am not sure if that is a fight-or-flight response or just an instinctive way in which I am taking care of myself. Regardless, I’ve retreated. I am both comforted and excited by my work. But, I am also feeling guilty. Shouldn’t I be a participant in this national debate? Shouldn’t I be involved? I’ve always been someone who can carry my own opinion while making room for the opinion of others. Yet right now, it just stresses me out.

I began to wonder if this current state is affecting me in such a visceral way, how is affecting others? Specifically, how are leaders leading their organizations through this disruptive period? I decided to ask, and below are some of the responses that I received.

How has this period of uncertainty challenged or changed the way you lead your organization?

 “In periods of uncertainty, it is really important to be empathetic and available as a leader to your team and people, a source of stability they can count on when things in the outside world are swirling.  That human touch, plus reminding our people of Annie’s mission and values as our North Star have been valuable and empowering to our team while navigating through periods of significant uncertainty and change.” -- John Foraker, president, Annie’s Inc

“Uncertainty to me are things that seem to be out of your control. However, one can navigate through and manage ambiguity. Ambiguity and uncertainty are very different concepts, and sometimes people confuse the two.  We are all human.” -- Erin Sexson, senior vice president of global sustainability, Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy

“As a proud liberal, entrepreneur and activist for equality, I am outraged by the dark and dangerous direction in which the country is pointing under its new leadership. However, I lead a diverse team of about 80 with differing views. While I may have the inclination to yell from the rooftops 24/7, I keep my management and communication at work focused on continuing to build an inclusive work environment.” -- Neil Gottlieb, founder and CEO of Three Twins Ice Cream

“Honestly, there are enough aspects of my young business to think about that I haven’t given myself much time to worry about the unknowns at the national political level.”  - Will Hartley, founder, Slingshot Foods

“Three words summarize how to lead during this period of uncertainty; re-examine, reaffirm, and refocus. Re-examine the facts by studying all sources of information. Reaffirm your position and clarify your purpose. Refocus your time and energy on things within your control. In my opinion, great leaders do not ‘change the way they lead’ based on outside circumstances. The leader needs to be the source of positive energy and the beacon signaling proper direction to the organization. Be engaged, be authentic, be passionate, be confident, be purposeful, be a leader!” -- Ron Dunford, president of Schreiber Foods

“Staying true to our values and mission as a company helps us navigate through periods of uncertainty and change.” -- Jenny Eu, founder of Three Trees Nut Milk

“The lack of trust is (IMHO) the core driver of the uncertainty we are all feeling. Our challenge as leaders is to build trust with our employees, our customers and to make an impact on the broader business community across the globe.” -- Randy Wootton, CEO, Rocket Fuel

“My approach to leadership hasn’t changed -- I’ve always strived to lead with the values that have guided KIND since 2004, including respect for one another, kindness, empathy and humility. I think it’s important to lead by example, listening to those whose opinions are different from mine and seeking to understand them, and I encourage our team to do the same.” -- Daniel Lubetzky, founder and CEO, KIND Healthy Snacks

“Uncertainty comes in many forms so, in my mind, today’s uncertainties are no less or more than the uncertainty we faced over the last decade or so. So, I wouldn’t change the way I’m leading the organization today, as I feel that our organization is already prepared to manage uncertainty in an effective manner.” -- Frank Otis, president and CEO of Crystal Creamery

“In an era where public safety is being vilified, demonized and exploited by the mainstream media, elected officials and the use of social media, it's our duty to reaffirm with our team and the community a message of fact, not fiction. We do that by demonstrating, every day, our commitment to the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics. How we interact with the community, our relationship and the trust we've built must be protected. Protecting the public's trust and confidence in us is accomplished by promoting a culture of ethical leadership throughout the Sheriff's Office. It starts with a culture that embraces our guiding principles of honesty, integrity, professionalism and respect.” -- Adam Christianson, sheriff of Stanislaus County, Calif.

“We gauge our success not on one, but on five, bottom lines. That won’t change. Sustaining our business, brands, people, community and the planet will remain at the core of how we operate. In these times, I think the opportunity for us is to make sure people understand our purpose and the benefits that come from running a business that focuses on more than profit.” – Kevin Cleary, CEO, Clif Bar & Co.

 

I found it cathartic just to ask this question and to find that people are dealing with it differently. There’s a lot a wisdom in the words above. I think the opportunity is for us all to decide how we can best lead. I personally, found Dunford’s admonition to “Be engaged, be authentic, be passionate, be confident, be a leader!” to be a powerful and hopeful reminder. My wish is that you found these words to be as timely and helpful as I found them to be and that you continue to find the strength to lead during these uncertain times. 

 

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Elliot Begoun is the Principal of The Intertwine Group. He serves as a consultant and thinking partner helping emerging food and beverage brands gain the distribution and win the share of stomach they need to grow. His articles appear in publications such as the Huffington Post, SmartBrief, and Business2Community.

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