How to Lead in Times of Uncertainty

Life during these past few years has been stressful and unpredictable. (Can we get a hell yes?) But this global interruption-that-shall-not-be-named has given leaders a chance to dig deep and extract some real lessons about how to lead in times of uncertainty. 

If you remember nothing else, remember this: There are things that are still within your control. 

Now, try saying it out loud: “There are things that are still within my control.” 

When things feel so out of your control and you feel at the mercy of the world, it can be hard to remember that.

But it’s the key to staying the course during times of uncertainty.

When our coaching clients come to us with questions about how to lead in times of uncertainty, we share our tried and true method with them. It’s a three-step method that you can apply anywhere, anytime, and in any situation. 

We like to call it the Joy Process. 


The Joy Process

Step 1: Self-awareness

In terms of the Joy Process, what is important about the uncertainty that surrounds you — whether it’s a global pandemic or a crisis at work — is how it affects you. We’ve seen that the same exact pandemic, for instance, has impacted people in different ways.

When uncertainty impacts you in a way that doesn’t feel right, you actually have a need that’s going unfulfilled. And that unfulfilled need will nag at you. It will try to get you to see it, to pay attention to it. As long as this need remains unfulfilled, you will struggle to feel happiness and peace. 

Normally, even before we recognize something out of sorts in our lives, we notice the feelings related to what’s misaligned. You know how some people can feel an ache in their joints before a storm? It’s kind of like that.

There’s only one way to truly become self-aware, and that’s through self-reflection. You have to find out what your feelings are telling you.

Exercise time!

Grab a pen and write down your answers to the following questions:

  • What am I feeling? (Remember, a feeling is a single word, and there’s probably an emoji for it!)
  • What needs are not being met which might be leading to these feelings? (Remember, needs are required for a safe, stable, and healthy life. Needs are not the same as wants. It’s an important distinction.)
  • Which aspects of my life are calling for change?
  • Which of these aspects are within my control?

Well done! Step 1 of the Joy Process is complete. On to the next…


Step 2: Courage

To cope with the present situation, try your best to find a routine that can bring you a degree of balance and normalcy…and for everything else that you can’t control, just let it be

Now, focus your energy on doing all that you can do to fulfill the pre-existing needs you discovered through reflection.

Let’s say you’ve come to realize that the anxiety you’ve been experiencing on your way into work is related to feeling like an outsider with your team. Working in an environment in which you feel unwelcome or under-appreciated can leave you feeling triggered.

Unless your needs (in this example, they could be consideration and inclusion) are actually addressed, you may find yourself using damaging coping mechanisms.

It’s not surprising, is it, that some people prefer diversions to diving headlong into solutions. That’s how affairs, addictions, and other poor choices happen. They do sometimes provide temporary relief, but don’t they end up diminishing the overall quality of one’s life? 

In times when things are uncertain, it is so important to manage our mental health and take meaningful action wherever necessary. 

Trust us, when you develop the courage to act on the awareness you’ve gained in Step 1, it can mean the difference between just enduring this ordeal and thriving.

Exercise time!

Now, grab that pen and jot down your answers to the following questions:

  • What options exist for me to meet the needs that I identified in Step 1?
  • Which of these options would yield the best results for me? (Note: this may not be the most comfortable option. In fact, it often isn’t.)
  • Rather than focusing on what I have to lose, what do I stand to gain by taking action? (Go ahead and make a list.)
  • Am I willing to do what it takes to meet my needs? 

Woohoo! Step 2 in the books. Time for the last (most important?) step…


Step 3: Sticktoittiveness

So let’s say you self-reflected, analyzed your feelings, discovered your needs, took meaningful action, and all you got were crickets… 

Where is your grand reward for mustering up all of that courage?

Remember this: Regardless of the changes you want to make, it will take time. 

If you expect to see the changes right away, you might start to feel discouraged. That’s a quick way to backslide right into inaction or resort to harmful ways of coping. Worse yet, you may blame yourself (or even blame the Joy Process!)

If our decades of coaching have taught us anything, it’s that with continued application of this process, uncertainty will dissolve, and you will feel the joy of meeting your needs.

Try to remind yourself that meeting your needs and creating meaningful change is a process, not an event. This means that you may have to have more than one conversation with yourself and with others. 

It might look like regular check-ins with your team, or ongoing conversations with your employers, employees, or colleagues about roles, workload, and healthy work culture practices. 

Or it could mean that a leadership coach becomes an active presence in your life. It could look like daily affirmations, a meditation practice, or an accountability buddy to help you stay motivated on the quest to fulfill your needs.

Exercise time

Ok, grab that pen! Jot down your answers to the following questions:

  • How will I know that I am succeeding? What will progress/success look and feel like?
  • How will I track my progress?
  • Who can best support me? Would I be willing to ask them for support?
  • How am I going to celebrate?

Well done. You’re on your way! 

Going forward, you may be faced with challenges that are out of your control.

But to look within and better understand your needs — those are the first steps toward achieving greater happiness and peace. That said, self-awareness ain’t worth a pile of beans unless you have the courage to take action, and the chutzpah to keep at it. So keep at it!


Love this? Sign up for our free course: 4 Foolproof Steps to Communicate Better with Your Team to discover how conscious leaders can do better in the face of mistakes, misunderstandings, and miscommunication.