Leading in times of uncertainty

Apr 14, 2022
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Written by Renée Sunde, President & CEO
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Just as we step into a post-pandemic world, the uncertainty facing leaders continues. Although COVID’s continued impact on our communities remains a priority, retailers are now facing new challenges. Even with strong retail sales performance in the first few months of the year, we are now facing the highest inflation rates in 40 years, hovering around 8%. The National Federation of Independent Business recently reported a drop in consumer confidence, with the index dropping to 95.7, the 4th lowest mark in the past five years.

The uncertainty has started to restrict consumer spending, and retailers are seeing thinner margins and lower sales volumes. Global unrest around Russia’s war in Ukraine, the increased cost of raw materials, and rising interest rates by the Federal Reserve paint an uncertain picture as we move forward through the remaining eight months of the year.

According to our partners at the National Retail Federation, however, despite all the uncertainty, cautious optimism remains. Consumer sentiment and shopping appetites are returning to near normal. NRF’s recent forecast is strong, with retail sales expected to grow between 6%-8% in 2022.

An article printed by the Harvard Business Review offers 6 strategies for leading through uncertainty which all leaders should consider to remain effective as we navigate the coming months. The article speaks to how leaders must first learn to lead themselves before leading others during times of increasing complexity. Several strategies I have found helpful include:

Embrace the discomfort of not knowing – it’s normal to feel stress when faced with unfamiliar situations, especially for those high achievers. Rather than avoiding the unpleasant feelings, leaders should learn to acknowledge and embrace the discomfort as part of the learning process

Let go of perfectionism – in complex environments aiming for perfection is futile. Instead, strive for progress, expect mistakes, and recognize your ability to course-correct.

Don’t go it alone – It’s not easy when you feel isolated. Now is the time to resist going it alone. Instead, tap into new sources by reaching out to people whose opinions you trust and gain a new perspective.

Zoom Out – I am certainly glad to get out of my zoom box more these days. Zooming out, or as Ron Heifetz described it, moving from “the dance floor to the balcony,” will provide you with a broader perspective and systemic view of the issues and shine a light on unexamined assumptions that would other not be visible.

The article written by Rebecca Zucker reminds us that any given week provides ample reminders that, as leaders, we cannot control the degree of change, uncertainty, and complexity we face. Adopting new strategies that help improve our ability to learn, grow, and more effectively navigate the increasing complexity of our world will be critical.