• July 2012

5 Ways to Stay Focused During Times of Uncertainty

By Lisa Earle McLeod
Keynote Speaker and Author
McLeod & More, Inc.
Illustrations by Michael Gibbs

Do you know exactly where you are going to be a year from now? How about two years from now? Well, if you think you know exactly what the future holds for you—you’re wrong.

The truth is, you don’t know what your work situation will be like in two years, or what your family situation will look like, or even what kind of health you’ll be in.

Scary, isn’t it?

If nothing else, the last few years have stripped away our illusions of certainty.

Companies are bought, sold, and go under with little notice. Managers move in and out faster than flying tennis balls. And our personal lives are stitched together in a patchwork of fragile connections that can disintegrate in the face of death, disease, or divorce.

Now for the good news: You can be productive, happy, and successful today, even if you don’t know for sure what’s going to happen tomorrow.

During times of change, the people who get the most unraveled are the people who don’t know how to function without having every detail buttoned up.

Perhaps you know a few: The managers who can’t lead until they’re 100 percent certain of the strategic plan, the spouses who purposefully don’t make friends because they might be moving soon, the salespeople who can’t make calls because they’re paralyzed about a rumored merger.

It’s a bit of a paradox. The secret to staying focused (and happy) during times of change is to have clear goals, yet remain flexible about the specifics.

Here are five tips for staying focused in the face of uncertainty:

1. Make peace with ambiguity. Plans are never going to be fully complete. New information will be revealed, new people will come into the mix, things will move forward, and then they’ll regress for a while. When you accept uncertainty as a given, you’re less likely to be thrown off course by it.

2. Stay true to your purpose. This is particularly important for leaders, i.e. everyone. Help your team, at home or work, stay focused by continually reminding yourselves of your larger purpose. Whether it’s raising future world leaders, helping your customers be more successful, or your guests enjoy themselves, staying true to your core purpose helps you get clarity. It’s like a reset button for your brain. It keeps you focused and productive.

3. Make do with 80 percent. My dad always says, “Great leadership is the ability to make good decisions with incomplete information.” Our forefathers founded a country on less than complete information. If you wait until you you’re 100 percent certain of the details, you’ll never accomplish anything big.

4. Set goals without attachments. Goals are what you want to accomplish. An attachment is when you’re emotionally invested in having it play out a certain way. For example, your goal might be to grow your business or run a successful church auction. Put that on your white board or day planner. But don’t be too attached to the details. Stay open to the idea that you’ll make adjustments along the way.

5. Leave space for the fabulous. You know that old expression, “Sometimes God has a bigger plan for you than you had for yourself”? Whether you’re spiritual or not, we’ve all experienced situations where the Universe sends you an unexpected gift. The future is always going to be unknown. That’s what keeps it fabulous and interesting.

About Lisa Earle McLeod

Lisa Earle McLeod is a sales leadership consultant. Companies like Apple, Kimberly-Clark, and Pfizer hire her to help them create passionate, purpose-driven sales forces. She the author of “The Triangle of Truth,” which The Washington Post named as a “Top Five Book for Leaders.” She has appeared on NBC’s “Today,” and has been featured in Forbes, Fortune and The Wall Street Journal. She provides executive coaching sessions, strategy workshops, and keynote speeches. Click here to learn more: www.lisaearlemcleod.com.