Leading Through Uncharted Waters

by Beth McDonald, Wheelhouse Group

I wish I could give you a simple top ten list to lead your organization through uncertain and unsettling times. As a leader of an organization myself, I’ve spent the past few months searching for recommendations, strategies, and tips but nothing I found gave me the answers I was looking for. We’re all treading water in unchartered territory. Not even Google has the answers we need! But I’d like to share what I’ve learned as the leader of Wheelhouse Group.

Early in 2020 our Wheelhouse leadership embarked on a new corporate strategy. We were excited and hopeful about our efforts to build on past successes while venturing into new areas of business. In early March we sponsored a multi-agency “DevOps Day” (one of our strategic focus areas) moderated by one of our biggest clients; and co-hosted by a key member of our consulting team alongside a major contributor.  She knocked it out of the park, which energized us to keep move our new strategy forward!

Before we heard the call from officials to work from home, we had already made the decision to support all our staff in working remotely. I don’t think you’ll disagree when I say it was quite a stressful transition. In the case of Wheelhouse and for me personally, so far, we have been lucky and weathered the storms as well as could be expected.

Our experience as teleworkers prepared our consultants well, but I also realized in these uncertain times they need more support than ever. So, we embarked on beefing up programs to support them, including corporate-wide a wellness program and doing the work we need to on inclusion activities, all of which has started with listening to our employees’ needs and providing the resources and space to have honest conversations.

We’re all facing the unknown, grappling with unanswered questions and unresolved systemic racism. Resolving these issues, will no doubt take time. And we will continue to come together as an organization and as people. But what we do know is we can’t stop looking ahead to what’s on the horizon.

Over the last six months, I have continued to go back to the basics and I hope my experiences will help you navigate what’s to come.

Show Understanding

Offer people the space to breathe and express their emotions. If people who are normally at the top of their game can’t be due to circumstances outside of their control, give them time, understanding, and show grace. In these uncertain times, we cannot expect everything to be perfect. If they are only able to give ninety percent is awesome, you can figure out the other 10 percent later.

Shift Your Mindset

Begin to look at the unknown as an opportunity for growth, a lesson in how to be a better leader. Instead of thinking about what you and your company can’t do, consider how you can learn from the experience.

Know Who to Call When You Need Help

I have led through many different situations, acquiring the skills and gut instincts most good leaders do. Even in present circumstances I can rely on that experience, knowing the right people to ask for support. All good know what they don’t know, and when to call in the calvary!

Take Action Where You Can

My concern about the well-being of my people led Wheelhouse to launch a wellness program. One of our experienced consultants happens to be a wellness coach and led group meditation sessions and virtual walking challenges; we also held an all staff meeting to discuss our steps forward as a company to help address racial inequality and approach diversity and inclusion efforts within our organization. These activities gave our staff a place to share their thoughts and emotions and connect with their colleagues and our leadership team on more personal level.

And, It’s OK to Slow Down.

The biggest lessons learned from all of this is it’s OK to slow down. We were on roll with implementing our new company strategy, but we made the necessary decision to reassess our timeline in light of everything we’re facing. After taking a step back, most of us have come to understand the importance of pressing the breaks to address the issues that are front and center, the circumstances that change us as people. Making the decision to support our people is not one that we will regret.

Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list of the challenges I have faced or the ones we may continue to face in the coming months and years ahead. I do hope reading this has inspired you to face your organization’s challenges in a new way or add you own lessons to my every growing list as we all continue to wade into these unchartered waters. To continue this conversation on leading through change, please connect with me.

Beth McDonald

Beth McDonald
President, Wheelhouse Group