Insight article

The uncertainty is going nowhere

A blog posted last week on Reuters (and brought to my attention by the Harvard Business Review on Tuesday) made it evidently clear that “Uncertainty is not going away”. The US may have just re-elected President Obama for another four years, and the Chinese Communist Party may have this morning confirmed Xi Jinping as the new leader of China for the next decade in a formal handover of power to the next generation, but our economic and political worlds are not about to settle into a comfortable period of predictability. Many Western economies still face debts larger than most of us are able to comprehend, and political sensitivities that range from further Arab Awakening in the Gulf States, to tensions around suspected and existing nuclear weapons programmes in Iran and Pakistan, continue to ensure any threat of a calm and tranquil future is kept firmly at bay.

But how does this tumultuous world affect the CEOs and leaders of businesses that exist within it; striving to deliver the results their investors expect? If you’d listened to Erik Weihenmayer at YamJam’12 you would have heard how he believes you can use adversity to your advantage to propel yourself to greatness. As businesses try to navigate these turbulent times, many are facing new challenges and barriers to their traditional success. Whilst barriers don’t make life easy, they can often be the thing that drives us on — creating a desire and determination to overcome them in order to achieve our vision. Erik became the first blind man to climb the seven summits, the highest peak on each of the seven continents of the world. He saw the adversity he faced as an opportunity; it became his pathway to greatness. The very fact that Erik’s feat was the subject within YamJam'12 demonstrates the increasing focus within businesses to equip their teams to operate effectively and ultimately grow in this uncertain world.

The challenge for senior leaders is to accept that they are operating in a world full of uncertainty and to be honest with their employees about the difficulties they face. Rather than trying to conceal the issues and paint a glossy picture, they should instead equip their employees with the skills to flourish in this environment. Leaders should help their people to recognise their personal strengths as these are the attributes they can draw on when they face adversity and they then need to inspire their people to want to succeed.

Recently we supported one client in taking their employees on an adventure where they faced a series of unexpected challenges framed within the context of their business’ journey. We brought their business story to life through the metaphor of an adventure and used a real-life adventurer to illustrate the themes of the business journey with his own stories. In this way we were able to create an experience that both engaged and inspired employees and showed them clearly how their experiences during their adventure applied to the journey their organisation is on. These leaders chose to be open about the known (and unknown) challenges ahead for their teams but they did this in a way that then equipped their people to embrace the uncertainty and inspired them to want to succeed. Erik Weihenmayer described three kinds of people in his YamJam talk: quitters, campers and climbers. Quitters will give up at the first sign of trouble. Campers will make it to their comfortable spot before settling. Climbers will keep going, always looking for the next peak. The comfortable spots for the campers to settle have become a rarity in our turbulent world, for businesses to continue to grow they need to develop climbers who are going to keep on striving for the top.

Nailia Tasseel