Seven Strategies for Managing Uncertainty

Managing uncertainty is difficult at best and sometimes seemingly impossible. Use these strategies to help manage your own uncertainty during the coronavirus pandemic.

By Nicole Lance, CEO of Lance Strategies, managing partner of EXB Team | May 11, 2020 | BLOG POST

“I don’t know where I’m going, but I know exactly how to get there.” Boyd Varty, A Lion Tracker’s Guide to Life

I first read this quote in Boyd Varty’s book in early fall 2019. It stuck with me, and in recent weeks I find myself continually coming back to it. One of the greatest challenges in our current time is the vast amount of uncertainty that exists on a global, local, organizational, and even individual scale. Every day I talk to community leaders and public servants who all echo the same refrain, “We just wish we could predict where this is headed so we can put some plans in place.” Energy is waning, employees are asking for information, furloughs are being extended, citizens are getting restless, businesses are frustrated, and budgeting continues to be a massive exercise in conjecture.

Managing uncertainty is difficult at best and sometimes seemingly impossible. I recommend using these strategies to help manage your own uncertainty.

1. Create predictability in small doses.

You can’t have the future predictability you might desire or that your team is asking for, but is there a daily or weekly practice you can commit to that will help you routinize your way of managing through this time? Identifying small “anchor points” throughout the day or week can orient you and your team and provide some of that desired continuity.

2. Reframe.

Develop the cadence of asking, “What am I learning from this? What are we learning from this as a team?” Applying curiosity and inquiry to the situations you are navigating will help you reframe challenges as an opportunity to practice skills or learn new ways of managing. You will also keep track of lessons learned and positive developments you want to continue to incorporate into how you do business.

3. Pinpoint your Power Phrase.

I like to think of a Power Phrase as a guidepost that helps me remember how I want to operate during a challenging time and how I want to feel about my work after. Select a word or phrase that can keep you focused not just on the what of your work, but on the how. Some phrases to try out:

  • Frantic is not my framework.
  • Calm, capable, caring.
  • Peaceful and present.
  • Reduce friction and accelerate.
  • People first.
  • Be intentional.

4. Make plans, but be willing to change them!

Uncertainty does not prevent you from planning. The trick is to make plans while being completely willing to change them. Fluid and flexible become your two favorite words when it comes to planning. Focus your planning on a shorter timeframe and break tasks and necessary steps down into the smallest increments possible.

5. Intentionally involve others.

Do not go it alone. Fear and uncertainty often make us retract like turtles pulling into their own shells. This cuts you off from valuable support and information networks and increases feelings of isolation. If you are uncertain about a way forward, challenge yourself to get as many data points of input from other people as possible. Consider it all research for making your best decision. I also assign many of my coaching clients the “ask for help challenge” where, for an entire week, they must find one thing a day to ask for help with. The exercise teaches two valuable lessons. First, that asking for help is okay and actually even a good thing. Second, asking for help bolsters our capacity. There is much more support available than we often allow ourselves to comprehend, let alone leverage.

6. Use your imagination for good instead of evil.

The human brain is powerful. Unfortunately, many of us primarily use this power for imagining worst-case scenarios and exploring ways everything can go wrong. It is similar to poking at a sore tooth over and over until your gums are throbbing and you have given yourself a headache. While leaders should always keep an eye out for managing through the next disaster or challenge, it is also beneficial to consider all the things that are going right. Celebrate the wins where you can and ensure your mental exercises in scenario-planning have an appropriate cut-off point. Ask yourself, “Is this line of thinking still productive and helpful?”

7. Find a foothold.

If you are isolating with children in the house, the phrase “Do the next right thing” might immediately conjure up images from the movie Frozen II. In the context of managing uncertainty, this is a powerful approach to take! Like the Boyd Varty quote at the beginning of this post, you may not know exactly where you are going, but you know exactly how to get there. Lean on past experience to simply inform your next step. You do not need to solve for every variable or plan for every contingency all at once. Take one action, evaluate, and then do the next right thing.

This blog post is part of a four-part mental health series presented by Nicole Lance for Mental Health Awareness Month. Join Nicole and Eric M. Bailey, CEO of Bailey Strategic Innovation Group, for a free ICMA webinar on Friday, May 29 titled, Extraordinary Resilience

Nicole Lance empowers individuals and teams to accelerate outcomes through strategy. She is the CEO of Lance Strategies and managing partner of EXB Team and serves those who serve by providing training, coaching, facilitation, and strategic planning services. Find out more about how Nicole can serve your team at www.nicolelancestrategies.com and www.EXBteam.com.


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