What You Can Be Certain About When There's Uncertainty Everywhere

One of the most challenging aspects of leading in a time like this is the uncertainty. Should I cut staff? What impact will government assistance have on my decisions? When will I know that we're on the upswing again? Do I really want to even be doing this? Why has my firm escaped the worst so far, and is that the lull before the storm?

The variation in what's happening at your firms is eye-opening. Some are experiencing an uptick in business, some are nearly wiped out, and most are just in an uncomfortable holding pattern, having lost only 10% of their business. But wondering if another shoe will drop. And how many shoes there are.

I find myself with lots of available advice for firms who have been listening all along about running their firms well, but less to say to firms who have been ignoring good management practices and then finding that it's catching up to them.

I would guess that all of us want to make the right decisions...if we just knew what they were. The paralysis of needing to move forward when you can see only a few feet in front of you is what's required. It's like straining to look through the dense fog on a steep, winding country road.

But in all this uncertainty, there are some things that we know for certain:

  • Nothing good happens when you allow a leadership vacuum to emerge. That vacuum gets filled with other people who set your agenda, without having your perspective from a higher altitude. Leadership always happens--just make sure it's you that fills that void or you'll be along for the ride.
  • There has never been a better time to clarify your positioning and become more relevant to fewer people. There's no better time to gather an audience losing sleep over something that you are an expert at solving for them. In a world where most firms are broadening their positioning in a desperate ploy to stay busy, you can maintain the high ground and refuse to do work that's easily interchangeable with other firms. Experts are obligated to accept only the work for which they are uniquely qualified. What are you uniquely qualified for? If you have trouble defining that in a way that most any decent firm could not also embrace, you have a positioning challenge that would be fun to fix. Let me help.
  • Pressure--from anywhere--reveals the true nature of people. You're already a little surprised at who is resilient, who can think about clients even when their own world is shaky, who will initiate the hard conversations, and who should be properly viewed as a fantastic contributor (but only if s/he is led appropriately). Squeeze something and you find out what it's made of. You're being squeezed--largely with uncertainty--but you're a leader because you keep making decisions based on deeper, more long-term principles.
  • Your business must be viable or it doesn't matter how good your work is. Maybe you're taking potshots at political leaders who didn't have the spine to prepare properly, forgetting for a minute that maybe you didn't think the worst could happen, either. I'm not sure it's far to criticize your political leaders if your own firm wasn't prepared for this. As political leaders are squeezed like you have been, we're discovering that many of them are merely humans who probably have no right to lead a city, a state, or a country.
  • Some clients really believe in marketing and value your partnership. Others do it just because there's a budget that needs spending. The former appreciate your objective insight and the latter want you to take orders and shut up.

There are a lot of uncertainties, but we can still be certain about enough things, and those are the things that smart principals are doing.

If you have topic ideas for broadly useful webinars, reply and let me know and I'll do my best.

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