How to think strategically during economic uncertainty

Leaders can use hard times as an opportunity to make lasting, positive change, says Liza Robbins

Credit: Weiquan Lin/Getty Images

With global economic uncertainty the new norm, it’s essential for leaders at all levels to know how to respond to and manage new and challenging developments as they appear. This is not to say that one must simply batten down the hatches and prepare for the ‘long winter’. On the contrary, appropriate foresight can in fact allow leaders to use uncertain times as an opportunity to make impactful and lasting change for the better. 

There are several key considerations that leaders must be prepared to adopt if they haven’t done so already. These are firmly rooted in the idea that, in any organisation, people are the most important asset for a leader, and keeping them happy, reassured and purpose driven in potentially difficult times is the gateway to turning such periods into avenues of opportunity. 

As developments and trends emerge, leaders must ensure that they are being seen by those who instinctively look to them for guidance. They must be visible. Conversely, to not be visible, to disengage or even disappear and not be seen as a guiding influence would be immensely detrimental. 

This is not to say that you need all the answers – far from it. In fact, on the whole, it is generally advisable that you avoid making unsupported predictions, particularly when it comes to how long a difficult period may last. Given the multitude of complex global issues we are faced with, it is very difficult to clearly define anything with much certainty, and to do so incorrectly could be damaging to people’s faith in their leadership. 

That said, it is important to plan and prepare for as many eventualities as possible and regularly ask the ‘what if’ questions. The key is ensuring that your people know you are there, and that you are acting on what is in your control and not panicking.

The way this is communicated is equally important. An appropriate tone of communication must be set, detailing your thinking in the face of any given event but also regularly giving people a chance to ask questions, even if you don’t know the answers. Communicating with those who are perhaps less experienced in matters such as recessions is crucial, and it is important to continue to convey these core messages and experiences when things become relatively stable. This extends to clients and stakeholders whose concerns must be recognised and reflected. However, the latter may also see the opportunities that can arise. These should always be considered.  

Recent phenomena such as the Covid pandemic have taught us several lessons in strategic thinking and communication. It has reaffirmed the fact that people are the single most important asset in any structure. The way people responded to the pandemic – becoming more reliable, flexible and agile, and stepping up to ensure that many elements of the economy continued to function – demonstrates this. It would be prudent to note here that being overly responsive can stifle innovation in the face of crisis. While reaction is critical, shutting down operations too quickly can be counterproductive, and this is where listening to others around you for input is very important. 

This point cannot be stressed enough. A leader should always look to consult and work with others, taking suggestions towards building for the future. This is true at the best of times just as much as it is during the more challenging periods. To consider every new opportunity or eventuality alone is impossible and, what’s more, purely individual action can lead to a higher volume of misjudgements. Leaders must recognise the ecosystem around them and take advantage of the myriad collective, innovative thoughts that stem from the people around them. 

However, you will not be able to maximise your strategic considerations if you do not ensure that you are looking after yourself. This relates to both mental and physical health. The stress being placed on the links between your overall wellbeing and your ability to make key decisions has never been so significant. By being able to think clearly and remain energised, you will be able to reinforce the trust of everyone who looks to you. 

Having the capacity to be a visible and communicative leader who listens to others and tries new things should be a priority. Maintaining focus on your ‘purpose journey’ as an organisation can aid in this by making an organisation more people centric. This takes you a long way in being able to not only reassure those around you, but also promote the agility and innovative thought required to navigate the rapidly changing global landscape. 

Liza Robbins is chief executive of Kreston Global