MT Expert: Lead into the unknown

Few leaders can predict what their organisation will look like in a year's time. This creates the challenge of leading into the unknown. Wendy Brooks of learning and development company Hemsley Fraser explains how to prepare for uncharted territory.

by Wendy Brooks
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013
How do you prepare for a future you cannot predict? It starts with you as a leader. In order to keep others motivated and on track, whatever challenges and opportunities may arise, ensure that you think about the following:

Personal credibility and integrity

You must consistently behave in ways that are in line with the vision and values of the organisation. Throughout periods of intense change, be consistent for your staff and colleagues. A harbour in the storm.


Dealing with ambiguity, coping with stress and overcoming setbacks can be emotionally draining, psychologically demanding and intellectually challenging. To quote Rudyard Kipling, 'If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you; If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too,' then 'yours is the earth' - or rather, your leadership is sound.

Be brave and embrace the new

You must be brave enough to challenge conventional approaches and be adaptable to changing situations and circumstances. Experiement when you can, otherwise, once your old ways have ceased to be effective, you'll be stuck. 

Inspire others

In the absence of certainty, you need to be able to influence and inspire others to perform. This can take real strength of will; not showing when you are under pressure or experiencing doubt, for example.

Be willing to learn

Change forces everyone to adapt but, as a leader, the onus is on you to make sure that you adapt quickly. Others will do as you do, so it all starts with your willingness to learn.

Collaboration is key

You're not alone in facing the unknown. Give yourself a better chance of success by building strong relationships and collaborating with others to ensure you all emerge unscathed.

These are the leadership qualities that you need to possess. It doesn't end there. Now, you have to use those qualities to make strategic decisions that will help your steer your organisation through the unknown. 

Always have a Plan B

Formulating strategy when you’re heading into the unknown is clearly difficult. However, it should be possible to plan for different scenarios and to create a broad strategy that feels real to people.

Hire a flexible and agile workforce

The days of hiring people for a steady job, with a predictable workload, are over. To move into the unknown, organisations have to become more agile and responsive. Success will depend to a large extent on whether employees have the capability - and capacity - to adapt and to take advantage of opportunities that arise.

Create an environment where innovation can flourish

Giving employees the chance to innovate will challenge and motivate them to perform at their best. This also includes recognising and appreciating people for the contribution they’re making and providing practical and emotional support to help employees to balance their work and life priorities.

Create leaders at all levels

Keeping leadership in the domain of the few hinders the organisation’s ability to respond to the rapid, even disruptive/seismic changes which are the reality of dealing with the unknown. Today’s organisations need leaders at all levels in order to build performance, create opportunities for innovation, harness talent and enhance engagement.

Measure what matters

As it becomes possible to produce ever more data, leaders must ensure that the right information is prioritised. Don't let your mind be boggled by numbers, make sure you simplify and undertsand the information available. Metrics must actually support and benefit the business otherwise they are useless.

Wendy Brooks is a director of Hemsley Fraser, a learning and development company.

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