Leading When the Path Isn’t Clear

Guest Blogger Julie Wilson shares:


I was with a few friends in 2017 visiting one of their lake houses in Canada. This unique community is made up of dozens of small islands, each with one house, surrounded by breathtaking beauty. To get to your house you take a boat and navigate the many islands. When we arrived the sun was shining, the water was like glass and our hearts were expectant.


The morning we were to leave we woke up to thick fog. We each had flights to catch so we loaded our boat and our host assured us the fog would lift after breakfast. As we boarded the boat, the fog was still thick, and it showed no sign of lifting. My friend knew the lake well and felt confident that we could make our way back to shore, if we just went slowly.


Within a few minutes, our boat was engulfed in thick fog, and it was hard to know what direction we were headed. Our host worried we might hit one of the islands, as her confidence waned, and we realized we had no sense of direction with the fog.


I wonder, if as a leader, you’ve ever been caught in a similar leadership fog. You think you know the landscape, but the clouds roll in, and now you and your team don’t know the way forward. So, what can you do when you lose your bearings? Here are just a few of the lessons learned in the fog.


#1 Go back to the basics—In any crisis, it’s important to return to what you know is true. In an organization, your mission, vision, and values ground your direction and can act as an anchor in stormy times.


#2 Revisit your personal purpose—As the leader, your level of confidence becomes essential in a crisis. Your purpose isn’t your “what”, it’s your “why”. My personal two-word purpose is “cultivating-change.” I love seeing change in people, organizations, and culture. When the fog comes, I get motivation knowing that challenging times offer growth opportunities if I remember to look for them. Doing a “purpose-check” in uncertain times helps me stay positive and look for opportunities that the crisis may be allowing.


#3 Don’t go it alone—Our performance driven, independence-focused culture in America can paint a picture of leadership that “the leader should have all the answers.” Leaders need to lean into their teams when hard times hit. The team can bring perspectives that help the leader make the best decision in a foggy time. During a crisis, lean in and listen until you have the direction you need to get back on track.


#4 Use what you know to figure out what you don’t know—Often the answers are right in front of us. We can build on the wisdom we have to figure out the right path forward. Listen well, ask questions and be curious about the difficulty you are facing. Look at the situation from many angles as it can offer clues to how you can apply past success and failure to current reality.


#5 Love people always—There is a saying that “people don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” In times of organizational crisis and confusion, people need to know that you care about them as people and will listen to their concerns. Small acts of kindness and care can go a long way and turn a crisis into a meaningful time of connection and trust building.


My short fog-filled voyage with friends will always stay with me as a visual lesson in leading in uncertain times. We remembered our mission to get home safely and our purpose of growing friendship. We worked together while our host listened to various suggestions. We used what we had via our cell phones, experience with past direction challenges, and a healthy dose of prayer and found our way back to shore. Most importantly, we kept our humor under stress, creating a shared memory and a great story that seems to get more harrowing with each passing year.


To learn more about your personal purpose, sign up for the Doing Well Series offered by Women Doing Well. In this 6-week, free course you will discover your unique purpose, passion and plan for a life of wholehearted living and giving. https://womendoingwell.org/explore/attend/#doingwell or visit https://on-purpose.com/ to take the 2-Word Purpose Assessment.



About the Author:


For the past 25 years, Julie has been a visionary strategist and communication specialist. After graduating with a degree in journalism from Boston University, she landed the highly competitive job as an NBC Page in New York City, the same year she became a follower of Christ through the ministry of Redeemer Presbyterian Church. She spent 13 years as a start-up team builder with Priority Associates, mostly in New York City, and most recently was VP of Communication and served on the executive leadership team for Generous Giving. Today, as President of Women Doing Well, she leads a team to activate generosity in women of influence. Julie and her husband, Gary, live in Richmond, Virginia, with their daughter, Ella.