The business landscape is constantly shifting, with new challenges and disruptions. In the past few years, leaders have faced a pandemic, hybrid work shifts, cybersecurity threats, and more. In the “New Era of Leadership 2024 Report” released by Chief, a private network women rely on to maximize their leadership impact, researchers found that 54 percent of CEOs expect leadership to be more challenging than ever. Wharton professor Adam Grant defines “crisis” in a business context as a “test of leadership and culture,” and that is exactly when the best leaders rise up. Here are three fundamental areas leaders need to focus on to navigate through uncertainty.

Share Your Vision and the “Why”

Workers need to understand where we are going, what we are trying to accomplish, and why is it important. The vision needs to be aligned for every part of the organization. This can be done by taking some time in a team or one-on-one meeting to connect a specific project to the vision and clarify the “why.” Too often, leaders don’t clearly articulate what the vision looks like. The result can be misalignment of priorities, confusion, and lower employee engagement. Don’t assume people are on the same page.

It can also be powerful to reframe a situation in times of uncertainty to help people see a different path forward and highlight opportunities for growth. Leaders who can make the bigger picture come alive and share the reasoning behind their decisions are particularly effective at motivating and building trust with their teams.

Communicate and Listen

When your words become your currency and you decide with intention how to tell your story, communication can be a powerful tool. You can share what you do know and what is still unknown. You can communicate how you are thinking about the challenges and shorter- vs. longer-term priorities. You can determine the most important stakeholders — employees, customers, investors, etc. — for your business and how the message needs to be communicated.

“Leaders’ top priorities should be people, people, people,” says Kelly Breslin Wright WG98.

Often, when leaders face uncertainty, they may wait to share information, not share frequently enough, or share limited information. According to the Stanford Graduate School of Business, leaders who mis-calibrate their communications are about 10 times more likely to be criticized for under-communicating than for over-communicating. When this happens, employees think leaders are ill-informed and don’t care about team members.

The next piece of the communication puzzle is to add a pause, to listen to your team members to understand what they need. Leaders don’t have to have all the answers, but by being transparent, you can build trust and strengthen the culture, especially in uncertain times.

Maintain a Focus on People, People, People

Effective leaders recognize that people matter. They make tough decisions with care and compassion for their employees. They focus on creating a collaborative and supportive environment where all can thrive and feel like their work and input matters. They share thoughtful, specific, and valuable feedback and ask insightful questions that help their team develop. Leaders can’t manage by spreadsheets and data alone. They need to focus on people and connect them to the story.

People are part of the strategy and need to be considered at every step. Adam Grant notes that “a leader’s job is not to show daily affection. It’s to give people pay and purpose, support their success, and care about their well-being.” Per Gallup, only four in 10 employees strongly agree that the mission or purpose of their company makes them feel their jobs are important. People want to feel like they matter, and feeling engaged leads to greater satisfaction, productivity, and profitability, according to another Gallup study.

Kelly Breslin Wright WG98, founder and CEO of Culture Driven Sales and former president/COO at Gong, understands the importance of focusing on people. “During these challenging times filled with constant change and uncertainty, leaders’ top priorities should be people, people, people,” she says. “Teams are more engaged and committed, with better results, when working in cultures that have a strong mission, core values, and open communication.”

The best leaders navigate uncharted territory and challenging times by sharing a compelling vision, communicating, and letting people know they matter. Leadership is a practice, and as Dean Erika James notes, “Leadership is a choice.”

How will you choose to move forward to make the greatest impact in uncertain times?


Alissa Finerman WG98 is an executive coach, a Gallup-certified Strengths Coach, and the author of Living in Your Top 1%. She works with leaders and teams to improve performance and engagement levels. She is on the executive coaching team for the Wharton Executive MBA program and on the board of the Wharton Club of Southern California.