What is going to happen to you tomorrow? You might have a good idea. An agenda may be clearly laid out in your calendar. But chances are, something will happen that you haven’t planned, expected, or accounted for. 

If history and life experience teaches us anything, it’s that nothing is guaranteed. However predictable things may appear, we are a heartbeat away from something truly unexpected. 

As leaders, we are often faced with the toughest of challenges: uncertainty. And it is on the rise. With new diseases, sweeping changes in society, political polarization, and the strain on existing systems and structures, it’s no wonder that people are feeling unsure about their future.

So how can we lead others struggling with the unknown, especially if we’re not fully equipped to handle it ourselves?

Know Your Role as a Leader

Leaders usually approach uncertainty with the best of intentions. We care for those depending on us. We want to provide comfort, protection, safety, and clarity – and rightly so.

But along the way, leaders tend to step outside their role, and as a result, make a bad situation worse. Here are three mistakes we often make when facing uncertainty:

We ignore it. Denying the presence of uncertainty might seem like a good idea. If we convince ourselves it’s not there, we can all breathe a little easier. But avoiding reality has long term consequences, and it’s a rude awakening when it comes crashing back into lives.

We try to fix it. The proactive response to any perceived problem is to fix it. Perhaps we narrow down our options, or we assure the people we love that we can handle whatever comes our way. Unfortunately, fixing uncertainty is beyond our ability or pay grade. We have no chance of being successful in the long term.

We offer an easy way out. If we don’t ignore or try to solve uncertainty, leaders might opt for surrender. The unknown is real, and it’s beyond our control, so we might as well accept it. Sometimes the best course of action is to let the wind and the waves carry you. Unsurprisingly, this tactic absolves us of agency and responsibility, and can have disastrous results.

Once we exhaust these options, or if we’ve wisely avoided them altogether, we might come to realize that the goal of leadership is not to eradicate uncertainty, but rather to navigate it.

Wise leaders see things for what they are, recognize their abilities and limitations, and take steps to guide themselves and those around them through it.

Focus on What Matters (And Avoid the Biggest Traps)

Navigators tend to have a few good tools at their disposal – chiefly, a compass and a little wisdom. They know that in the roughest storms, you need to pay special attention to the North Star and other fixed points to orient themselves and chart their course. Even with unpredictable wind, waves, and other dangers, some things never change and can help guide you home.

Philippians 4:6-7 says: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Imagine yourself as a leader truly unencumbered by anxiety, who in difficult circumstances appeared calm and peaceful and ready to help navigate whatever challenges came your way.

Imagine you had the freedom to focus on what you could provide those around you: love, support, encouragement, wisdom, bravery, and care. 

Imagine what perspective you could offer – focusing on that which is unchanging amidst the chaos – and how you could make your presence felt.

Leadership requires honesty (we don’t ignore it), recognition of our abilities (we don’t try to fix it), responsibility (we don’t offer an easy way out), and a clear vision whatever the circumstances.

While you may not be able to change the course of history, you can be a compass for those around you without a map who are looking for a true north.