Navigating Ambiguity Part 1 – Leading People During Uncertain Times

Posted by Craig Weaver & filed under Leadership.

During these unprecedented and trying times, as we all work to make sense of the changes caused by COVID-19, leaders are faced with a distinctive challenge – they must lead their people to deliver performance goals and simultaneously manage the concerns and uncertainty resulting from this pandemic. I would like to offer a perspective from the Israeli American sociologist and academic, Aaron Antonovsky, whose work concerning the relationship between stress, health and well-being I have long revered. Over the course of his career, Antonovsky became the father of a paradigm in Medical Sociology known as “Salutogenesis” – “saluto” meaning “health” and “genesis” meaning “origins” – the origins of health. 

In his book, Health, Stress and Coping, Antonovsky introduced the idea that each individual possesses personal characteristics that make them more resilient to the stressors they encounter in life. These characteristics help people to remain healthy and thrive while dealing with the ambiguities and uncertainties of life. His research showed how these personal characteristics provide people with a connectedness to life, or a deeper comprehension of how their lives are ‘coherent’. He found that this Sense of Coherence (SOC) applied across cultures, as his research covered 32 countries. 

Sense of Coherence refers to a belief that your environment is predictable and that things will work out well. It contains three key elements:

  • Comprehensibility is the extent to which you believe things make logical sense.
  • Manageability is the extent to which you believe you can cope. 
  • Meaningfulness is the extent to which you believe that rising above the challenges of life is worthy of your commitment. 

As you lead your people through these ever-changing times, I encourage you to foster two-way conversations that achieve three key objectives, namely: 

  • Comprehensibility – Communicate with people in a manner that creates understanding and offers a logical perspective to the developments in the international response to the spread of the coronavirus. Help people make sense of what is going on. A mixture of group communications and one-on-one conversations has been found to be most effective.
  • Manageability – Encourage people in their abilities to cope with the adjustments, changes, and unprecedented nature of this rapidly changing situation. Consistently reinforce their capacity to cope and support them in their efforts.
  • Meaningfulness – Impress upon them the value of rising above the challenges that social isolation has created. Reiterate their value to your team, your department and your organization. 

I hope that this offers a pragmatic perspective and support, to shape and direct the conversations that you are having with your people as we navigate these trying times!

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