What it Takes To Lead in Uncertain Times

Is it getting more difficult for leaders to get their messages out and inspire others today?

In an era of unrelenting uncertainty and increasingly less structured means for getting things done – leadership effectiveness is more dependent than ever on great communication skills.

In almost every industry, people are being asked to do more with less and are feeling the pressure.

Right, left and centre – organisations are finding it necessary to:

  1. Revisit/rewrite business models that may have worked before, and
  2. Take tough decisions to survive or just fare moderately well.

And more often than not, changes deemed necessary will have material financial and human consequences.

Faced with these realities…

…What does it take to motivate people to tackle difficult challenges?

The short answer – after defining a clear vision and compelling reasons why this should be pursued – is open, honest and credible communication.

Your ability to engender trust will play a vital role in whether you will inspire others into action or not.

People are much more likely to be swayed by those they believe are on their side – who genuinely empathise with them and have their best interests at heart.

Even when difficult problems need to be confronted and tackled – which may require painful decisions; The last thing you need in trying circumstances is to have people question your integrity , to think you’re not telling them everything or you’re only paying lip service to their worth.

Why Leaders Must Speak With Versus At Their Audiences

Here’s a for instance of how ‘not to do things’.

Picture the scene:

After many years of lack luster performance a multinational (which shall remain nameless) appointed a new CEO to:

  • Recapture lost market share
  • Create more highly valued products
  • Achieve greater customer loyalty, and
  • Boost their share prices

And one of the first things he did was to attend a global event to address his key troops with a stirring keynote address.

But – although the words he spoke were on message and made sense, there was a problem.

For all his talk about commitment to putting the customer front and centre, innovation, value propositions, world-class service, etc.…

…It was obvious that he was delivering a ‘my way or the highway’ sermon.

He was talking at instead of with his audience and when speaking to the rationale for the direction the corporation needed to adopt – it was clear he was wearing a virtual ‘iron fist under a velvet glove’.

He wanted them to know that he was a tough cookie and an impatient man – who wanted certain things done now.

Regardless of whether his assessment of what they needed to do was entirely correct, those listening would have been in little doubt that he wasn’t really in the market for push back or questions.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Imagine you were sitting in a similar audience and listening to a speech like this. How would you react?

You’d be hard pressed not to bristle, right?

And here’s the problem – unlike ‘yester-year’ when many organisations had more people and greater certainty…

…as markets become more fluid and flatter, leaner organisations with more cross functional teams become more common – almost everyone needs to take more responsibility to get anything done. And they need to feel this is real.

If you fail to establish an emotional connection with your target audiences, built on mutual respect and a more inclusive, caring attitude – you can expect people to feel less passionately about your direction than you do.

Over to You

What leaders have impressed you in the ways they have lead others through difficult times?

What did they do right? And what lessons can be learned from them?

About Eamonn O'Brien

Public speaking master, Eamonn O'Brien is the founder of The Reluctant Speakers Club.