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Leading with Clarity in Uncertain Times: Where to Start?

21 May 2021

Earlier this week at the Aged & Community Services Australia Virtual Summit, our CEO Kerryn Fewster spoke on the importance for business leaders and managers in the Aged Care Sector and beyond, to nurture and lead their people through change in uncertain times.  

Dr John Hewson, Economic and Financial Expert, in his keynote presentation for the Summit, reaffirmed that the times ahead presented many challenges for the sector with no clear pathway to achieve genuine reform – a very uncertain future.

“Clearly, we need a new Aged Care Act and just in the Royal Commission’s terms, that’s five years of sustained reform. The Budget has done a lot but there is still a long way to go.”

Successfully tackling an unknown and uncertain future was one of the key themes to emerge from Kerryn’s presentation; Kerryn spoke on the need for leaders to give people clarity rather than to strive for certainty – because in the absence of certainty, what people want above all else, is clarity.

People want to know the answers to the simple questions about their workplace, things like: what am I doing today, tomorrow, next week? Who do I talk to if I get stuck? What leaders can provide is clarity – and that helps alleviate anxiety. If people are informed, they feel more in control as change moves with them and not ahead of them.

So how do leaders give clarity? Kerryn reaffirmed that for leaders to give people clarity, they firstly need to be comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity themselves – because not many do, with only 10% of leaders having a clear tolerance of ambiguity and uncertainty. Leaders should not automatically feel like that they have to provide certainty, because “uncertainty is not an indication of poor leadership; it underscores the need for leadership.”[1]

The good news is that leaders can “train” themselves to be comfortable with uncertainty with a range of choices, much the same way as you can train mindfulness techniques. Kerryn spoke to how leaders can do things like:

  • Choose to be open-minded;
  • Choose to get really curious, ask questions,; and
  • Choose to have a go and try something new, even if you might fail.

These choices are the initial step but for leaders to be able to make them, they need to start creating a culture that is receptive also to embracing uncertainty. So how do they do that? By leading by example and cultivating curiosity, experimenting and exploring; and importantly, getting comfortable with failure, by adopting a “what did I learn from that?” mindset.

Beyond leading by example, leaders also need to implement the infrastructure to create this cultural shift. They need to consider things like how to ensure that they have the right people and teams to support them lead the change, manage risk, to provide accountability, and that there is an appropriately big focus on communication to staff – because at the end of the day, one of the key tools to provide clarity, is communication. It is around these considerations where Change2020 can guide, inform and support businesses to start, implement and transition change. From ensuring that leaders are supported with the right leadership teams, to creating and implementing clear and effective change communication strategies, this is where Change2020 can provide specialised and tailored services.

For the aged care sector, with the recent release of the Royal Commission Report and Federal Budget, it is facing unprecedented change, upheaval and uncertainty. But this sector is just one industry area facing ambiguity and uncertainty in a world still caught in the grips of a global pandemic. In these uncertain times, leaders can successfully lead their business through change, by focusing on giving clarity to their most important asset, their people.

[1] Andy Stanley: The Next Generation Leader

Kerryn Fewster

Kerryn is the Founder and Director of Change 2020. She has consulted extensively in the area of Transition and Transformation. She places emphasis on strategy development and solution implementation to minimise people and operational impacts associated with major change.

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