I just stepped off stage in Philadelphia PA, I was speaking to an audience of about 250 CEOs, all concerned, understandably, about the uncertainty in the marketplace.
We closed the keynote, as I like to do, with about fifteen minutes of Q&A. I love Q&A, as it gives the audience the time to get the answers to the questions that would be most valuable for them. This audience was engaged, and it was a great discussion.
I got a wide range of questions – everything from: how to set goals when you have no idea what the future holds; the best way to balance the need to have team members in office and their desire to work from home; and how to transition a business, effectively, from one generation to the next.
These were all strong questions and led to an even better discussion. But of all the questions I was asked, one really stood out for me. A long-time member of this association took the mic and wanted to know how we prepare our younger generations for uncertainty? He felt, with so many of them never ever having experienced this level of disruption, coupled with the fact that their level of anxiety and fear seems to be far surpassing that of the older generations. They just don’t seem ready he added.
It was such a great question, and he is right. Our research shows that it is the younger generations that are struggling far more with how to deal with, let alone lead through, the uncertainty in the marketplace. Year after year when we release our research study, we find that millennials and Gen Z are far more fearful of the challenges in our marketplace then Boomers and Gen X.
Why you fear uncertainty
So why do you fear uncertainty? The short answer is that you are actually wired that way. When you do not know what is going to happen, your brain goes into protective mode, assuming the worst, so you can do what you need to do to protect yourself.
Unfortunately, protective mode produces the emotion fear. When you are afraid, you lose your ability to create and innovate, and you shutdown and disengage. As a leader, these are not the reactions you want or need in a team.
And why is the anxiety higher in millennials and Gen Z? Well, let’s face it. As a generation they have been protected far more than Boomer and Gen X. Think about it, Boomers grew up with parents who largely insisted their children stand on their own two feet and figure out their own problems. Their parents sided with teachers, locked them outdoors all summer long, and insisted they move out at 18.
Gen X, known as the “latch key kids” – need we say more? Their parents, both parents, went to work, leaving them largely to fend for themselves. Add to this, these generations are older, they have been through more.
Millennials and Gen Z, have grown up in a world where their parents, coaches and teachers protected them. They are the “everyone gets a trophy” generations. Understandably, Boomers and Gen X wanted to protect their children from the uncertainty that life delivers.
And lastly, with the crash of 2008, Covid and the last few years of rampant uncertainty, Boomer and Gen X leaders have held tight to the reins in the workforce, not always giving these younger generations the latitude to navigate some of these challenges themselves. So, our research reveals these generations fear uncertainty, because they do not feel they have the experiences or skills to navigate it successfully.
4 strategies to lead your team through uncertainty
So that is the challenge on the table right now. As a leader, you need to be developing your team to not only succeed in the present, but get them ready to succeed in the future. You need to build a future-focused team.
- Own it – Begin with talking about uncertainty. Be transparent, talk about it, and help your team get comfortable with the idea of executing a strategy in a world where any number of scenarios could happen. If you talk about uncertainty, you will decrease the fear, drive innovation and engagement – exactly the result you want.
- Engage at every level – Use the tools and strategies we offer through our Thriving In Uncertainty System to engage your team, at every level, for their ideas and opinions. Give your team the opportunity to talk about the challenges and changes they see, and what ideas they have for how to transform your business.
- Be open – to new ideas, strategies, and most importantly for letting others take the lead. Your most important role as a leader, is to build the next generation of leaders, and to create ownership and commitment at every level of your organization. You need to give others the opportunity to try, fail, try again and succeed.
- Celebrate progress – Understand that confidence is built from progress. The more your team sees and is given the opportunity to celebrate forward movement, the more engaged and committed they will become.
The biggest myth about uncertainty is that it is going to end. Buckle up, it is not only not going to stop, it is going to pick up the pace. Uncertainty can lead to your greatest opportunity, if you build a team that is future-focused and understands how to navigate it successfully.