Leading through uncertainty. 5 lessons on leading an organization, and retaining your key people, through times of uncertainty and adversity.

5 Lessons on Leading through Uncertainty

Leading a company, or any organization, through times of uncertainty and adversity is a challenging task, to say the least. One of the main challenges in such times is retaining your key people.

Typically, good people are in always in demand. It’s hard enough to retain them in good times. It becomes much harder once they sense signs of trouble, uncertainty, and instability. For example, in times of downsizing, acquisition, strategic redirection, or a major re-org.

In my career, I’ve experienced all of the above situations, both as a regular employee and as a senior leader. As a result, I’ve gained some valuable lessons. I also developed some useful tactics for crossing these troubled waters while retaining your key people. And more importantly, maintaining good performance and a positive attitude within your team.

Here are five key lessons.

  • First, identify your key people that you are prepared to fight for in order to retain them. This seems obvious and should be for organizations who regularly work on succession planning and employee development.

  • Have regular 1-on-1 sessions with your people. Let them know that they are valued, wanted, and are part of your plans moving forward. Never assume they know that without specifically being told so. Everyone needs and wants to feel wanted and valued. More importantly, listen to them; understand their concerns, development goals, and personal priorities. Build an individual development plan for each person on your team.

  • Communicate broadly, early and often. Have regular, periodic communication with your entire team or company. Keep them informed of your plans, goals, and priorities. Be clear and sincere about the challenges that lie ahead, and at the same time present the opportunities that come with it.

  • Stockdale’s Paradox. Be clear and realistic about the situation your company is in, and the challenges ahead of it. And yet display your confidence and faith in its ability to come out of this situation better than before. Develop an action plan to meet your goals; set correct expectations.

  • Lead by example. Maintain a positive and proactive approach. To borrow from Gandhi: You must be the change you want to see in your company.


Following the above suggestions will not give you 100% guarantee of retaining your key people. However, they will surely increase your chances of doing so, and will definitely make you a better leader.



5 thoughts on “5 Lessons on Leading through Uncertainty

  1. Timely reminder that staff can be the greatest asset (and risk) of any company. Particularly liked your final point borrowed from Gandhi, a prompt to 'be the change'.

  2. Times of uncertainty and adversity also test the true soldiers of the company. The employees, who stick with the company during adversity despite odds, are the valuable assets and they should be rewarded amply.

  3. It is folly not to recognize that there is always uncertainly; it is just that some periods are more uncertain than others.

  4. Having read this I believed it was very enlightening. I appreciate you taking the time and energy to put this informative article together.
    I once again find myself spending a significant amount of time
    both reading and commenting. But so what, it
    was still worth it!

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