The past sixteen months have been like a crash course on leading in uncertain times. And we have not been dealing with garden variety uncertainties—leaders have had to make decisions impacting not only the long-term viability of their companies, but also the lives and wellbeing of their employees.
During the early stages of the pandemic, we spent hour after hour digesting rapidly changing information, often concluding that there simply was no “right” answer. That left us with little choice but to acknowledge the uncertainty we were facing and share our contingency plans with employees. Surprisingly, our employees were happy with our transparency, and I think that approach brought our entire team closer together (virtually!). Perhaps even more importantly, we learned two other lessons that we hope to carry forward well beyond the end of the pandemic.
Your employees want and appreciate transparency
First, our entire team had the unprecedented opportunity to sit in the front row and watch our decision-making process. They understood each of the factors we were monitoring and how changes would impact us each step along the way. They also learned how to employ a rational approach to solve complex problems as well as how to develop contingency plans—both skills that are essential in business.
There is real value in admitting mistakes and course-correcting when necessary
Next, that approach short-circuited the fear that many leaders struggle with—admitting that they were wrong. And that fear is dangerous, because it often causes leaders to stick with a strategy long after it is apparent that it is doomed for failure. By sharing contingency plans, we essentially acknowledged the high likelihood that initial decisions or expectations would turn out to be wrong. Because of that, our team was free to correct course without feeling like their reputations, jobs, or careers were on the line. Additionally, they learned the value of experimentation—making small decisions and then objectively analyzing information and outcomes to determine whether to move to Plan B.
Going forward, if we can focus more time on reinforcing the importance of experimentation in the decision-making process, we will develop many more strong, rational future leaders. And if we reward those leaders for adjusting course when they realize that an experiment did not work, we will ensure that they have the resiliency to build value that lasts long beyond their tenure at our firm.
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