Leadership Clarity in Tough Times

Essential principles for leading effectively through disruptive times

Running a non-profit organization, particularly a church, as a volunteer lead pastor, has exposed me to a spectrum of challenges — from personnel changes to financial problems. The dilemma often faced is how transparent I should be with information. The balance between maintaining morale and being honest about the difficulties is delicate. I have learned that transparency, while daunting, is key to leading with clarity. When I share the challenges openly with my congregation, it not only fosters trust but also invites collective problem-solving and support. This approach has been instrumental in maintaining a sense of security and unity, even when the path ahead seems uncertain.

In contrast, my past experience as an employee in a company painted a different picture. When the company faces challenges, the management’s tendency to withhold information and make things less accessible to employees has a tangible impact on morale. The lack of transparency leads to rumors, anxiety, and a general sense of insecurity. This approach starkly contrasts with the environment of openness I strive to create in my non-profit role. The difference in the morale and cohesiveness of the team in both scenarios is significant, underscoring the importance of clarity and openness in leadership.

In the midst of disruption, the very essence of leadership is challenged and reshaped. In such times, leaders must realize that their voice is more critical than the words they choose, their presence outweighs the polish of their presentations, and clarity becomes an invaluable substitute for certainty. This blog post delves into three essential principles for leading effectively through disruptive times and provides insights for reflection and team discussion.

Three Essentials When Leading Through Disruption

1. Your Voice Over Your Words

During times of upheaval, the sound of a leader’s voice can be a beacon of stability for a team. While emails and texts serve well in normal circumstances, they fall short in conveying empathy, assurance, and strength in challenging times. Hearing a leader’s voice, whether in a video call, a phone conversation, or a physically distanced meeting, can significantly impact the morale and confidence of a team. It’s not just what is said, but how it is said, that reassures and guides people through uncertainty.

2. Your Presence Over Your Presentation

In disruptive times, a leader’s presence is a powerful force. It’s not about impeccably crafted speeches or presentations; it’s about being there, visibly and empathetically. Leaders need to show up, sometimes unprepared, to listen, support, and stand with their team. The human connection that comes from shared experiences and emotions is invaluable. As Patrick Lencioni wisely stated, “No one has ever left a company because the leader overcommunicated or communicated too often.”

3. Clarity as a Substitute for Certainty

In an environment rife with uncertainty, clarity becomes a leader’s strongest tool. While promising certainty can lead to a loss of credibility when those promises are unmet, providing clear, honest, and transparent communication builds trust and stability. Leaders must acknowledge the uncertainty but also lay out a clear vision and plan, as best as they can, to navigate through it. Clarity may not eliminate uncertainty, but it significantly mitigates the anxiety and confusion it causes.

Three Ways to Provide Clarity

  1. Be Honest: Honesty builds trust. In uncertain times, leaders must avoid sugarcoating or hiding the truth. Teams respect and rally behind leaders who are transparent about the challenges ahead.
  2. Don’t Pretend: Pretense creates a false sense of security. Leaders should not pretend to have all the answers. It’s okay to admit uncertainty and seek collaborative solutions.
  3. Don’t Exaggerate: Maintaining a realistic outlook helps in setting achievable goals. Exaggeration can lead to unrealistic expectations and eventual disappointment.

The Stockdale Paradox

Admiral Jim Stockdale’s wisdom is particularly relevant in times of disruption. He said, “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

Leadership in tough times is not about grand gestures or perfect decisions. It’s about being present, genuine, and clear. It’s about showing up, listening, and connecting with your team. And most importantly, it’s about navigating through uncertainty with honesty and clarity, without losing sight of the ultimate goal. As we face disruptions, let’s remember: our voice, our presence, and our clarity are the beacons that can guide our teams through the storm.

As leaders, you cannot provide certainty, but you can provide clarity.

Andy Stanley

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