Lead Bravely in Uncertain Times

Ten Tools for Leading Bravely in Uncertain Times

Dare to Lead

Brené Brown’s book, Dare to Lead, is about brave work, tough conversations, and whole hearts. It shares research that will help leaders to be successful in a complex, rapidly changing environment where we’re faced with seemingly intractable challenges and an insatiable demand for innovation.

Brown tells us:

  • Courage can be learned and is much needed for our uncertain times.
  • Empathy is one of our best approaches in uncertain times.
  • Equity—support for diversity—is needed more than ever in uncertain times.

Ten Tools:

Dare to Lead offers dozens of tools for courage, empathy, and equity.  Here are just a few.

Communicate most even when uncertain.

We often hesitate to communicate when the news is either difficult or still in flux. Brown suggests these conversation starters:

  • I will share everything I can about the coming changes with you, as soon as I can.
  • I want to spend the next forty-five minutes rumbling on how we’re all managing the changes.
  • I’m asking everyone to stay connected and lean into each other during this churn.
  • Let’s each write down one thing we need from this group in order to feel okay.

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

In uncertain times we need two-way communication. Ask good questions. Be a learner. Being the knower comes across as defensive and shuts people down.

  • Having the right questions is better than having the right answers.
  • Asking someone to “say more” often leads to profoundly deeper and more productive time.
  • Ask, “What does support from me look like?”
  • Be a problem FINDER. Problem finding is better than problem solving.
  • Transform always knowing into always learning.

Create connection, inclusion, and belonging.

Focusing on what we can do together builds energy. Focusing on how lonely and exhausted we are saps energy. Daring leaders cultivate a culture of belonging, inclusivity, and diverse perspectives

  • Catch people doing good things.
  • Help team members baton-toss to each other’s strengths.
  • Work on shared commitment and clarity, NOT compliance.
  • Compliance and control are normally about fear and power.
  • Take the time to explain the “why.”
  • Commitment comes from Shared Purpose and Mission.
  • The less people understand how their work adds value, the less engaged they are.
  • Know who we serve, what they need, and how to successfully meet people where they are.
  • Daring leaders work to make sure people can be themselves and feel a sense of belonging.

Acknowledge fear.  

When we are managing during a time of scarcity or deep uncertainty, it is imperative that we embrace the uncertainty. Name it, normalize it, embrace it. 

  • Weaponizing fear is common in times of uncertainty. This doesn’t help.
  • Acknowledge the fear, but don’t fan the flames.
  • There is incredible relief and power in naming and normalizing fear and uncertainty.
  • Assure your team, “We will walk through this in a way that makes us feel proud. It will be hard, but we will do it together.”

Dig deeper to find root causes.

Uncertain times often mean that we need to change, and change quickly. Don’t avoid the hard conversations. And don’t wait until you are ready; by then it is often too late to avoid hard feelings.

  • Being willing to ask uncomfortable questions opens the door to great conversations.
  • Stop talking. Even if it’s awkward—which it will be. Really listen.

We can’t solve problems we can’t see. In 90% of conflicts, we find that we skipped problem finding. Get to root causes. Encourage staff to speak up with these starters:

  • Tell me more.
  • That’s not my experience (instead of, You’re wrong about …).
  • I’m wondering…
  • Help me understand.
  • Walk me through…
  • We’re both dug in. Tell me about your passion around this.
  • I am working from these assumptions. What assumptions are you working from?
  • What problem are we trying to solve?

Share your story.

Being vulnerable puts all of us on the same team. A middle school principal shares her experience:

  • One way to help people understand how much you care is to share your story.
  • Sharing my story helped my staff understand my purpose, passion, and commitment to courage.
  • I knew we had to move past “this is the way we have always done it.”
    I would need to lead. I would need support. If not me, then who? If not now, then when?
  • My strategy was to build enough trust and connection to talk about these tough conversations.
  • I invested in building high-performing, connected teams by using strengths-based and work-personality assessments, and I developed structured protocols for hard conversations, including progress checks.
  • I committed to tackling problems that threaten our mission, vision, and values and I challenged others to call out the culture killers in our organization.
  • We changed the narrative of our school by growing power with people through distributive and collaborative leadership, and by empowering others to lead.

Identify core values.  We can’t live values that we can’t name.

Focus on top values. Without clear values, we lack direction. We can easily become paralyzed—or too impulsive.

  • What is our North Star? What values do we hold most sacred?
  • Identify your top two—no more than two. My two central values are faith and courage.
  • Our values should be so crystallized in our minds, so infallible, so precise and clear and unassailable, that they don’t feel like a choice; they are simply a definition of who we are.
  • For your top values ask yourself:
    • Does this define us?
    • Is this who we are at our best?
    • Is this a filter that we can use to make hard decisions?

Grow capacity.

If people are doing the best they can, and we are doing all we know and it’s still not going well, something has to change.

  • Ask yourself, What skills are needed to grow capacity?
  • Then face the difficult tasks of teaching the team, reassessing skill gaps, etc.
  • There are no guarantees of success in the arena. We will struggle, even fail. 
  • But if we are clear about the values that guide us, we will always find the light.

Get back up; learn to rise.

We learn by being “in the arena.” And when we are in the arena we will, at times, stumble. When that happens, we can own the story and write the endingor deny the story and it owns us. Great leaders, and cultures, learn to rise again. In the rising is the new learning that makes us better than before. Enter the arena. Use all the Dare to Lead tools to “rumble.”

  • Set the intention for the rumble; be clear about why we are rumbling.
  • What does everyone need to show up with an open heart and mind?
  • What emotions are people experiencing? Name those emotions.
  • What do we need to get curious about?
  • What are our SFDs (Shitty First Drafts)? Writing slows the winds and calms the seas.   
  • What do our SFDs tell us about our relationships? Leadership? Culture?
  • What is the delta—the gap—between our SFD and the new information we are gathering?
  • What more do we need to learn and understand:
    1. About the situation? The courage to confront conspiracies and confabulations.
    2. About the other people in the story?
    3. About myself?
  • How do we act on key learnings?
  • How do we use what we are learning?
  • What is one thing each of us will take responsibility for embedding?
  • When will we circle back so we can hold each other accountable for new learning?

Be personable.           

Finally, be yourself. Relax. Be human. Show you care:

  • Build trust and connection with the people by simply engaging with employees for a few minutes on a personal level.
  • Be genuinely interested in their personal lives.

Adapted and summarized by Larry Nyland. Italicized sections only lightly edited from direct quotes from Dare to Lead by Brené Brown.

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Larry Nyland – Leadership Coach and Consultant.
Seattle Schools superintendent 2014-2018

To talk about growing extraordinary "high capacity" leadership for your team …
Contact: Larry@Larrynyland.com | 425-418-4398 | LarryNyland.com