How Change Leaders Navigate Uncertain Times

Even as we intuitively recognize otherwise, many of us still hold outmoded ideas of what leaders are and how they should operate. We think of leaders as commanding, people of presence, people who see the big picture and call the big shots.

Instead, leaders are increasingly called upon to offer context, navigate ambiguity, and guide their teams through complex scenarios. This shift has been catalyzed by a range of factors: increasing political polarities, unexpected world events, the growing press for corporate social consciousness, and more demands from the labor marketplace. It’s also simply a reflection of the massive increase in contextual factors that increasingly affect every corner of the marketplace.

Change is Continuous, not Episodic

Information production, particularly in the Age of AI, is moving at warp speed. But information is not the same as knowledge or wisdom.

Change leaders think about this as an opportunity to cut through the noise and establish a way of deciding what information really matters. To do that they take the foundational step of establishing trust in their team and empowering people across the organization, top to bottom, to recognize and elevate critical changes in context that affect the organization’s direction or day-to-day operations.

Political Polarities Can’t Divide Us

Political polarities raise the specter of separation at a moment when trust and collaboration is essential to organizational success. In a presidential election year, the constant news cycle related to politics can threaten relationships that are otherwise characterized by trust.

Change leaders recognize that ignoring or avoiding this reality only undermines their team’s success. On one hand, discussing specific political beliefs is out of bounds for almost all organizations. On the other, pretending there are no differences of belief or opinion is also not acceptable.

The key is to recognize and observe the reality and reinforce that the value of the team is in the people on it—not what they believe or how they vote. This is honoring diversity without transcending anyone’s right to psychological safety.

Navigating Unexpected World Events

Unexpected world events, whether natural disasters or escalating conflicts, introduce a new level of uncertainty into the leadership equation. Like political polarities, most people will have a point of view on these issues—and some may even have personal connections. Here again, keeping the person at the center of the equation is key.

Change leaders build relationships strong enough that someone in the organization can recognize the effects of these events on the team and address them at the altitude appropriate to the team and its individual members’ needs.

Balancing Social Consciousness and Business Viability

Even with shifting attitudes toward diversity, equity and inclusion and sustainability, leaders are expected to strike a delicate balance between being socially attuned and building a viable business. This requires a form of courageous leadership to lean into the challenge of changing broken systems.

The biggest challenge leaders face is making sure there is integrity to their commitments. Not every organization can affect every social justice issue in a meaningful way, and leaders must be careful to avoid telling aspirational stories that aren’t really true. It is possible (and reasonable) to care about something but not be able to take action on it through the business.

Upholding Core Beliefs

What all of these issues have in common is the demand on leaders especially to be clear and committed to their core beliefs. Organizations should have clear values at their core, but leaders must also be clear about what drives them and what serves as the backbone of their own behavior.

As anyone who has spent time in a demanding leadership role will know, the experience exposes the boundaries and edges of self-awareness and lays bare personal and professional weaknesses. The goal is not to eliminate all shortcomings or weaknesses, but instead to develop clarity about what guides behavior in times of stress. Doing so can help leaders avoid being surprised by one’s own behavior and instead leverage it to build and maintain the ongoing trust of the team.


The complexity of leadership in uncertain times is undeniable. Leaders are no longer expected to simply provide answers; they are called upon to navigate ambiguity, guide their teams through complex scenarios, and stand firmly on their core beliefs.

Taking some time to reflect on what core beliefs drive one’s behavior will make an extraordinary difference in how well they show up as a leader in their own and their organization’s most trying times. In doing so, they not only drive their teams and businesses towards success but also contribute to a more resilient, adaptive, and socially conscious business environment.