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How to lead in uncertain times

By Jeremy Snape, former England cricketer and founder of Sporting Edge

Business owners are under more pressure than ever before to deliver results in the face of unprecedented uncertainty and change. With more unpredictable times ahead, now is not the time to dither, but instead to focus on showing courage, clarity, action and, most importantly, ownership.

Rather than staring inward and focusing on micro-managing their team, owners need to look out to see what lessons they can learn from other sectors which are regularly faced with uncertainty and high-stakes challenges.

Professional sport, the performing arts and the military all combine uncertainty, exceptional pressure and, with the latter, life and death outcomes. Their insights are useful for business owners’ current predicament.

I learned this from personal experience when, as an England cricketer, I choked in front of 120,000 during a game against India. It was then that I realised my mindset was the key to my success. This set me on a research quest, to go inside the Mind of Champions® and to share their insights for the benefit of all of us in our daily lives.

In the last decade I have spoken with some of the world’s most impressive and prolific leaders, from Sir Alex Ferguson to military generals and even the performance director at the Cirque du Soleil to understand what tactics and strategies they use to mentally deal with continued uncertainty. 

Here are some essential tactics to help you cope with the current uncertain times: 

Stop blaming others 

With our current situation there are plenty of people you might feel like blaming – the electorate; former Prime Minister David Cameron; the EU; MPs in Westminster; our Prime Minister. If that is what you are doing, you need to get over it. 

Uncertainty creates opportunity so start by owning the situation and making a plan that turns it into an advantage. After all, other businesses have the same problems so those who actively tackle the situation will be the ones that succeed. 

Pressure is a privilege

Having played in and worked with some of the world’s highest profile sporting teams, I’ve seen how they use pressure as privilege and use this mindset to tackle potential issues head on.

In sport, the best coaches prepare their teams for Plan A, but they also throw scenarios into the training that get the teams thinking on their feet. I’ve supported several senior leadership sessions at Sandhurst military academy and heard how they create challenging and chaotic scenarios to test the soldiers’ ability to think clearly and adapt under pressure.

In a business context, the aim for owners is to build your team’s self-belief so that they work together to solve complex problems rather than simply putting every problem back in your lap. 

Don’t micromanage

An effective leader needs to have confidence that their team will know how to find solutions while under intense pressure. It’s especially important in small businesses where you have limited resources and the actions or inactions of one person could disrupt the entire set up.

By relinquishing some control, you will help them to have the confidence to make good decisions, without fearing blame.

Be fluid, not fixed

Owners must understand that they can’t predict and prevent all problems from arising, but must prepare so they can assess and respond quickly.

Understanding your biggest threats and rehearsing how your business will respond if they become reality is important to be able to withstand the pressure that comes from uncertainty. Confidence comes from preparation, so plan for the unexpected and turn disruption to a commercial advantage.