Leadership on the Executive Path in Unprecedented and Unknowable Times

Posted on Feb 5, 2022 in General


Diane L. Dixon, EdD

During this pandemic I have been thinking about leadership in these unprecedented and unknowable times.  We have not seen anything like what we are experiencing globally in my lifetime, which makes it is unprecedented.  And there’s a great deal more that is unknowable than we have experienced in previous times.  This presents a challenge for leadership on the executive path which has been traditionally grounded in stability and what is knowable.  Leaders are rewarded for what they know and the results they achieve.  This has been the way leaders progress on the executive path.  But in these times, how do you lead and manage when you don’t know and there is so much uncertainty?  There are no easy leadership answers. This is certainly a reality in the tangled web of Covid-19 and related economic and societal pressures.  I think there are ways to help you manage yourself and others during these challenging times.

Consider these five actions…

  • Be Mindful of Your Mindset

The lens you look through will influence how you lead.  Whatever you keep telling yourself will be impact your behavior and interactions with people who need to trust your leadership.  If you think we are going back to stability, think again.  If you think you need to know everything to lead, you never will, particularly in these unknowable times.  Traditional management and leadership practices built on the premise of stability and order will not work well in today’s unstable and unpredictable environment.  I think one of the keys to thrive and lead in our dynamic organizations is to accept and embrace this reality.  Be mindful of your mindset and embrace the unknowable and uncertainty as the norm.  Develop a learning mindset that will help you to adapt as needed.

  • Become More Adaptive

In alignment with a mindset that expects instability and unpredictability becoming more adaptive will help you navigate today’s complex healthcare ecosystems.  Adaptability is the adeptness to adjust and change in the constantly changing and increasingly complex environment.  Adaptive leaders have a stay tuned awareness and understanding of what’s going on around them.  Leaders, like yourself, understand uncertainty and complex complexity requires more interconnectedness and interdependency across multiple networks to achieve goals.  You know that communication and developing positive relationships are keys to leading and managing change.  Grounded in your core values and the healthcare mission you can engage the collective wisdom in your organizations to harness innovative and creative approaches to tackling complex issues.  This is the potential of what becoming more adaptive can do.

  • Manage Stress and Anxiety

Leading and working in the emerging new normal is stressful and can create a great deal of anxiety. If you are a person that focuses too much on the past or the future, the potential for depression and/or anxiety becomes more likely.  Finding the balance between learning from the past and looking toward the future to be strategic, is not easy, but a must.  Practicing stress management can help. According to the Mayo Clinic website on stress management, stress is the physical, mental and emotional response to  challenging events.  You are living it every day.  But what are you doing about it?  There are numerous resources available on stress management techniques.  One of the most important actions you can take is to be mindful of how you are managing stress and practice the methods that work best for you.   In doing so, you will be a better leader and have more capacity to help your team.

  • Create Learning Organizational Cultures

Leaders play a major role in creating learning organizational cultures.  In fast moving, constantly changing organizations, learning is the key to adapting strategies to meet current and future demands. The tough part is unlearning what may have worked well in the past but does not work well now. Habits are hard to break and mindsets are difficult to change.  It is not easy to get out of your comfort zone. Also, it can be scary to try new ways of doing things because of fear of failure.  But in a learning culture failure is an opportunity for learning and growth.  Leaders embed learning and adaptation into the culture by how they role model learning, facilitate inquiry and dialogue, engage others to share stories, reward risk, and use mistakes as lessons for doing better the next time.  By doing this, you and your team will recognize the impact of learning on strengthening performance.

  • Engage People with High-Touch Interactions

Now more than ever people need to feel that they are valued.  With staffing issues continuing to be a significant challenge causing people to work harder under tremendous pressure, they need high-touch attention.  The “great resignations” are about different things for different people, but we know that burnout is a key cause in many cases.  This is the time for you as a leader to tune-up your interpersonal skills. Come out of the office and nurture relationships with your staff.  “Management-By-Walking Around” (MBWA)  and staff meetings provide an opportunity to engage people in a way technology cannot. These interactive spaces are a chance to simply ask “How are you doing” and to say, “How can I help?”.  Active listening in which you seek to understand what people are thinking and, importantly, what they are feeling is essential.  These are moments of caring and compassion that can go a long way in helping people get through a tough day.  Acts of kindness such as a sincere ‘Thank You’ note or just saying, “Thank You” touches the hearts of people who are struggling to work in high stress environments.  High-touch interactions will make the difference in our high-tech workplaces where people need to know they belong and what they contribute matters.

Closing Thoughts

There are no simple answers to how to be an effective leader in these unprecedented and unknowable times.  The five actions are not intended to be linear steps, but rather, they are interrelated ways of managing self and others amid our current state of emergence to the ‘new normal’.

*Note: This is a self-edited blog.  Please forgive any typos or other writing errors.

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