Gut Check: How Do You Lead Through Ambiguity?

March 16, 2015 Vince Molinaro
Gut Check: How Do You Lead Through Ambiguity?Well it’s been an exciting week for all of us at Knightsbridge.

We were acquired by Adecco and Lee Hecht Harrison, global leaders in talent acquisition, development and career transition.

This is the second time that I have worked for a company that was acquired. I’ve also been the acquirer and know at a personal level the impact these kinds of events have on employees and leaders.

Mergers and acquisitions challenge leaders in significant ways. The manner in which you respond will be critical to your success.

I find the primary challenge is dealing with all the ambiguity and uncertainty that arises. Even if the overall transaction is positive – like it is in our situation – there is still disruption for employees and customers.

Your customers want to be reassured that their world won’t change. So as a leader, it’s obvious that you communicate frequently to your customers and maintain high levels of service.

Your employees will have varied reactions. Some will be upbeat and positive. Others will be concerned about their jobs and careers. All these reactions are legitimate and need to be addressed head on by leaders.

It’s also critically important that you don’t ignore your own reaction.

Just like your employees, you could be elated or concerned. You might be worrying about losing your job, or experiencing diminished power in the new organization. All this can add up to an unplanned shift in your career plans.

The important thing to remember is that in the midst of all this change, you have an obligation to lead. So you need to manage your own reaction so that it doesn’t negatively affect the reactions of others.

This is important because during periods of uncertainty everyone instinctively looks to their leaders for cues. The tone you set can either help or hinder how everyone else reacts. If you’re running around fretting, it’s quite likely your employees will do the same. On the other hand, if you project confidence and reassurance, that can be contagious as well.

3 keys to success when leading through a merger or acquisition.
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So what’s the best way to deal with ambiguity brought on by a merger or acquisition?

#1.     Get Your Act Together

If you are concerned, reach out and get the information you need to maintain a confident tone. That will set the tone for others in the organization. It will be important to keep everyone focused on business as usual. Often the best way to cope with change is to keep busy. Serve customers, deliver on projects, and find a way to take your performance to an even higher level.

#2.     Communicate

Communicate what you know and can share. Everyone appreciates transparency during uncertain times. You can do this by finding ways to bring your people together through town halls and other public meetings. People will settle down when they know you are focusing on their needs and concerns.

#3.     Stop The Rumor Mill

People have a deep desire to have meaning and understand things. In the absence of good information, some will invent their own information. Often small and random data points get spun into stories. If they are negative and untrue, these rumors can take a life of their own and work against you. So be vigilant in quashing bad information.

In today’s world, mergers and acquisitions are just a normal part of doing business. All leaders can expect to experience these events at some point in their careers. These are times that test your personal leadership in significant ways. How will you respond?

This week’s gut check asks: how do you lead during times of ambiguity?


About the Author

Vince Molinaro

Vince Molinaro is the Global Managing Director of Strategic Solutions at Lee Hecht Harrison. He is also the author of The Leadership Contract – a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. Vince has spent more than 20 years as an adviser to boards and senior executives looking to improve leadership in their organizations.

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