How to lead during uncertain times

Since the start of the pandemic, McKinsey Organization Blog readers demonstrated strong interest in posts that offer guidance to best lead teams and organizations through this crisis. Indeed, all crucial issues faced by organizations in these times—caring for and inspiring employees; embracing purpose; emphasizing diversity, equity, and inclusion; improving effectiveness—all boil down to one thing: leadership.

The following posts are those, related to leadership, that our readers have turned to most since the pandemic started. Collectively, they offer a well-rounded primer on how to lead a team to success—during uncertain times or during business as usual.

  • Busting a management myth: Empowering employees doesn’t mean leaving them alone
    By Aaron De Smet, Caitlin Hewes, and Leigh Weiss

    Many mistakenly believe that employee empowerment requires “leaving them alone” and hoping that they rise to the occasion. Rather, empowerment often requires more involvement, not less. In the first post of this two-part series, we explore the fundamental misunderstanding of what empowerment means and how it impacts leadership and management styles.

  • What it really means to lead more effectively through empowerment
    By Aaron De Smet, Caitlin Hewes, and Leigh Weiss

    What does it mean to truly empower those you manage, and what actions can you take to drive results? Empowerment is a high-touch contact sport, but for “hands-on” leadership to be truly empowering, you need to be an inspiring coach. In the second post of our two-part series, we delve into how leaders can genuinely empower employees and the positive impact this can deliver.

  • Improve your leadership team’s effectiveness through key behaviors
    By Natasha Bergeron, Aaron De Smet, and Liesje Meijknecht

    Investors seeking a more accurate view of a company’s prospects are looking more closely at management. With so much riding on the leadership team’s performance, what can be done to improve its effectiveness? We studied 37 organizations to understand how frequently the behaviors that contribute to effectiveness occur in their leadership teams. The results suggest that significant opportunity to improve exists.

  • How to communicate effectively in times of uncertainty
    By Ana Mendy, Mary Lass Stewart, and Kate VanAkin

    During a crisis, an employee’s most trusted source of information is often their employer, and a leader’s words and actions can have a major impact on the well-being of those they manage. These five fundamental tools can help leaders effectively communicate with their teams and carry their organizations through uncertain times with a renewed sense of purpose and trust.

  • Inspiring individuals is the new competitive advantage
    By Alexander DiLeonardo, Taylor Lauricella, and Bill Schaninger

    The key to unlocking sustainable performance is to maintain a dual focus on performance and health. While doing so at the organization level continues to remain core to creating lasting results, building a true competitive advantage requires applying that same lens at the individual level to better inspire and enable people on the ground. This post explores four areas to help leaders forge a path to success.

  • Grief, loss, burnout: Navigating a new emotional landscape at work
    By Bryan Hancock and Bill Schaninger

    The COVID-19 crisis has changed the emotional landscape in the workplace. This extract from a McKinsey Talks Talent podcast episode discusses how leaders can address complex and potentially uncomfortable topics, including grief, anxiety, and depression, in the midst of returning to offices.

  • Organizational effectiveness for sustained performance and health
    By Dinora Fitzgerald Dobru, Caitlin Hewes, and Patrick Simon

    Is your organization seemingly in a constant state of reorganization? Does the accelerating pace of business mean you’re launching one redesign after another to keep up with the latest changes? This post explores how leaders can move away from episodic “cure-all” transformations to escape the “reorganization treadmill.”

  • Survey fatigue? Blame the leader, not the question
    By Alexander DiLeonardo, Taylor Lauricella, and Bill Schaninger

    In this Golden Age for employee surveys, our clients often tell us that they are hesitant to deploy them for fear of employee fatigue. While survey fatigue is real, there are many misconceptions around what drives it and how to overcome it. Hint: It’s not about the number and length of surveys deployed.

While conversations about the future of work started well before the pandemic, the crisis accelerated things significantly. Read our second post, which rounds up our most popular content published in 2020-2021 about the future of work.

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