Leading in Uncertain Times

By Kate Lee

In uncertain times, fostering an environment of certainty is critical.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, the phrase “VUCA” (the acronym for the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous nature of today’s world), more than ever, describes the world leaders must navigate.

In a VUCA world, leaders need to remember the importance of fostering an environment of certainty for their teams and their organizations.

Creating an environment of certainty is critical because uncertainty can be debilitating.  Neuroscience research has shown that uncertainty can impact memory, performance, morale, and engagement. In times of uncertainty, people disengage from the present and are not focused on doing or being their best.  Uncertainty is also stressful, more stressful, in fact, than predictable negative consequences. A study published in Nature Communications found that most people would rather know for certain that they’re going to get an electric shock than to not be able to predict it.

Here’s how to create an environment of certainty so you can lead your teams and organization through uncertain times:

Don’t panic

Leadership is about making people feel safe and secure.  It is, therefore, important that you maintain your composure.  Be calm. Be rational.  A study of empathetic stress found that by observing others experiencing stress, the observers themselves felt more stressed. If you show that you are stressed and panicking, you can transmit that stress and panic to others.

Have empathy

By understanding and sharing the feelings of those on your team and within your organization, you will help them feel supported and less alone. Moreover, having empathy can increase engagement and collaboration, reduce stress, and improve morale.

Be transparent

Be clear about what you know, what you don’t know, what is being done, and what plans have been put in place to get more done.  By being transparent, you can help your teams and organization feel more confident about the current situation and the path forward.  Further, by being transparent, you can increase credibility and trust.

Be decisive

In uncertain times, being a leader becomes more complex and challenging.  By being decisive, you can take action and, by doing so, build your team’s trust and confidence in you as a leader.


Communication is critical to creating an environment of certainty.  When leaders fail to communicate, their team and organization spend their time trying to figure out what is going on, rather than focusing on the present and what needs to be done.  We recommend establishing a regular cadence of communication.

While we don’t know what the future holds, leaders can take steps to lead their teams and organizations through uncertainty. By creating an environment of certainty, leaders can buoy their teams and organizations, build resilience, and help people focus on the present.


We're looking forward to hearing from you!

Dave Barashleadership COVID-19