Leadership Strategies for Unpredictable Time

Published: Aug 21, 2019
Modified: Mar 24, 2020

By Donna Every

Leaders who have successfully navigated their businesses through the past five years have learned to look for opportunities—the positives—in situations that would have been considered negatives during more prosperous times.

As we pass the fifth anniversary of the start of the economic recession, many observers focus on the jobs and earnings that were lost. But the leaders who have been most successful during these uncertain times don’t rely on the standard approaches they’d use in more predictable eras. Instead, they look for opportunities—the positives—in situations that would have been considered negatives five years ago.

It’s similar to how we deal with the weather. In places where it’s sunny most of the summer, we don’t carry around heavy coats and umbrellas, just in case. But in climates where the weather can change quickly, we head out with a different mindset.

For businesses, switching gears to deal with inclement economic conditions involves adopting new perspectives and practices. For example:

  • Build on what you have, not toward what you want: Instead of setting goals and then seeking out the resources you’ll need to meet them, assess what you have available and decide what you can achieve with that. This not only saves you the time and expense of pulling together resources you may not have, it also gives you the advantage of working from your business’s individual and unique strengths.
  • Follow the “Las Vegas” rule: Tourists planning a weekend in the gambling mecca will often set aside the amount of money they’re willing to gamble—and lose. That way, they won’t lose more than they can afford. During an uncertain economy, business leaders should calculate their risks the same way. Rather than going for the biggest opportunities as you would during prosperous times, look for the opportunities that won’t require as much of your business’s resources. Calculate how much you can afford to lose, and always consider the worst-case scenario.
  • Reach out: When times are tough, you need allies. Explore forming partnerships with other businesses so you can strategize to create opportunities together. You’ll have more strength and new options to work thanks to what your partners bring to the table.
  • Capitalize on the unexpected: Surprises can have positive outcomes if you handle them nimbly by finding ways to use them to your advantage. Instead of planning damage control for the next unexpected contingency, look at it as an opportunity. Get creative as you look for the positives it presents.
  • When life is unpredictable, don’t try to forecast: Focus on what you can do and create now rather than what has happened in the past. In good times, that information can be a helpful and reliable way to make predictions, but savvy leaders don’t count on that in uncertain times.

While the U.S. economy is improving, there’s still too much uncertainty both here and abroad to go back to the old ways of doing business just yet. If you’ve survived the past five years, you’ve probably already been relying on many of these strategies, maybe without even realizing it. Don’t abandon them yet. Additionally, if you aren’t using some of these strategies yet, consider incorporating them into your business plan.

Hone your leadership skills with these AMA seminars:

Developing Executive Leadership

What Got You Here Won't Get You There

About the Author(s)

Donna Every worked with Ernst & Young for 10 years before starting Arise Consulting Inc., a company that offers business training, and consulting services. She is a Chartered Certified Accountant and is the author of What Do You Have in Your House?, The Promise Keeper, Arise & Shine, and her first novel, The Merger Mogul. For more information, visit www.donnaevery.com