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  • Sean Ryan

Leading Through Uncertainty Takes Caring & Connection

Leading Through Uncertainty Takes Caring & Connection


With the ongoing pandemic, the war in Ukraine, an inflationary economy, the recent collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and an uneven job market where some employers can’t find talent and others are announcing mass layoffs, the first quarter of 2023 has been rough.

Leading through this uncertainty is daunting regardless of your industry or sector. But there are ways to build resilient teams and remain competitive in these challenging times.

Here are some things you can do today.

Hire slow, lay off slower

Inflation, rising interest rates, supply chain woes and other economic pressures have some companies feeling the pinch and looking to trim costs. Cutting staff is one of the first places many will look.

Not so fast.

Before you embark on knee-jerk layoffs, take a beat to explore the alternatives.

What other expenses can you forego before cutting human resources, which are so much more than just another line item in your budget? The costs of cutting staff go far beyond finances: it’s people’s livelihoods on the line. Treat them accordingly: with great care.

Instead of showing people the door, get creative about staffing. Could you offer early retirement to people close to the end of their careers? Is there an opportunity to shift some roles to part-time work or job sharing?

Restructuring pay and compensation is another option. One option is to align it more closely with results. If the company succeeds, everyone wins; if it’s struggling, everyone makes less–but at least they've got jobs.

Staffing is an area where long-term thinking and a cool head pay off, and yet so much of hiring, firing, and layoffs is reactive. We saw many organizations rush to staff up coming out of the pandemic. Why should their team members suffer the consequences of management's short-sighted decisions?

Every time you hire, ask yourself: am I thinking far enough into the future that I won’t have to lay people off when things get tight? If you can't forecast that far ahead, consider staffing up with temporary or contract workers or offering overtime to your existing employees.

There are serious short and long-term impacts to chopping your staff to cut costs. Along with the labour loss, there’s the inevitable dent in morale among those remaining that can have profound ripple effects on your organization’s culture and productivity.

Engagement is critical

There’s a stat I cite all the time, and it hasn’t changed in years: only 15 to 30% of workers are fully engaged in their work.

So, what about that other 70-85%? What’s the disconnect?

Usually, these people feel like factors of production in indifferent organizations where they’re just trading time for money.

And who can blame them? Why commit to an organization that will lay you off when times get tough?

“If you're not going to be loyal to me, why should I commit to you?” goes the thinking. Why go above and beyond for an employer who won’t reciprocate with care in return?

But the inverse is also true. The more committed you are as a leader and employer, the deeper the engagement will be from your team, especially in a pinch.

Of course, not every company is looking at layoffs. At the other end of the spectrum are many companies that can’t find the talent they need to win. Recruitment and retention are more important than ever, especially in highly competitive labor markets.

Quiet quitting, job hopping, and the so-called great resignation are all signs of discontent on the work front. The pandemic prompted people to think more deeply about what matters, and many decided work is not the No. 1 thing in their lives. Now, more than ever, employees are looking for more–including more meaning. They want to feel valued, and that their work and roles matter.

Communication, caring build connection

Being a leader isn't just about making prudent business decisions and undertaking management functions: it's also about relationships.

When you take the time to build a bond with your colleagues and employees, you show them that they matter and are part of something bigger than themselves.

Leaders are essential in creating an environment where people feel connected and engaged with their work. You can do this by providing feedback and recognition, encouraging open communication between team members, and creating opportunities for collaboration.

Communication is crucial to this sense of connection.

But too often, in times of stress, leaders clam up. They communicate less because they don't want to be wrong. They make the mistake of thinking that communicating simply means transmitting correct information to their teams.

Communication is every touchpoint with your team, from emails and memos to town halls, meetings, and impromptu water-cooler chats. It’s less about being right and more about being present, sharing and caring.

And it needs to be a two-way street.

As a leader, you must create a respectful atmosphere where communication is encouraged and people feel seen and heard. When your team can safely ask questions, challenge each other, and share ideas, it fosters trust, which increases engagement, which in turn builds commitment.

You see how this works?

All of this is premised on a foundation of caring–truly caring–about people. Caring is your leadership superpower. It is the key ingredient for forming strong relationships, fostering trust, and creating an atmosphere of respect, empathy, and acceptance within your organization.

To remain competitive in uncertain times, you need to build strong teams that are committed and engaged with their work. Follow these guidelines above, and your leadership can weather any storms that come your way in 2023–and beyond.


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