Essential leadership skills for uncertain times

There are many qualities that define good leadership in typical times. These can vary from consistency in identifying, assessing and overcoming challenges, to interpersonal excellence and the ability to inspire. But there are some traits which hold particular relevance in times of uncertainty, when information is fractured and the time for decision making is shortened. In these circumstances ‘normal’ ways of working are compromised and these latter leadership skills become imperative in the workplace.

professional woman wearing white driving a meeting

In the midst of COVID-19, it has become obvious there will be no quick return to normality for many companies and operators. This will have its upsides, but it will also demand different leadership to navigate what is expected to be an extended period of flux on multiple levels, including market stability, business model viability, consumer relationships and working arrangements.

So what are some of the specific skills leaders should enhance in order to act effectively and responsibly on behalf of their businesses and teams, in times of uncertainty? We spoke to leaders from high profile brands in two different industries to uncover what they consider the essentials.

Multi-level communication

Area Director of Marketing, Florencia Aimo – Australia, New Zealand & Pacific @ Marriott International:

“In testing times trust becomes more vital for leaders to secure than usual, and earning and sustaining it requires clear and considered communication. How this is crafted and shared will vary across different levels of a business in line with information sensitivities, priorities and proposed actions, and knowing your audience lets you work with them to make more sense of a situation. Being open and honest with all stakeholders, from staff, associates and customers to fellow senior colleagues and local powers should remain the priority. Talking in a timely, transparent and factual manner, about not only what you know but also what you may not, inspires everyone to be informed but flexible in their thinking, make smart decisions together, and mobilise with reduced notice and predictability when required.

Even when something far less serious than loss of life or liberty are at stake, there is a tendency to focus on what could go or is going wrong when forces beyond our control take hold. At this point a challenge can move into upheaval territory, which may have negative impacts upon productivity, morale and mental health, amongst other things. Leaders need to invest at least as much energy into communicating, showcasing and championing what is working and where opportunities exist as they do into articulating concerns and relevant responses to them.”

Equip yourself with this essential leadership skill and others by enrolling in the Effective Leadership Communication Microcredential course from the University of Melbourne.

woman in red driving a meeting in an office

Creative planning

Division Manager, Darian Misko – Commercial @ Australian Grand Prix Corporation:

“When our most recent major event planning process culminated in an 11th hour cancellation, at the hands of a global health crisis and after a year of work, we had a lot to contend with. Whilst successfully applying softer skills was paramount, our leadership team also had to work hard to try and look beyond the reactive necessities of people and partners to ensure that we started to forge a new plan to take us all forward.

The nature of the challenges meant we had little option but to think differently about our event and, to some degree, our business. But while this period has involved reassessing, prioritising and streamlining, it has also brought to the fore our ability to harness creativity in our scenario and strategic planning. When timeframes and considerations differ from standard planning cycles, effective leaders are able to turn trepidation into excitement and innovation by leaning on quality, data-fuelled insights and flexible idea generation practices to create windows of opportunity. Resources can then be concentrated on the most potentially valuable areas and channelling bold, creative ways to exploit them, quickly and quantifiably, providing what might be your best chance of ‘owning the unknown’.”

Equip yourself with this essential leadership skill and others by enrolling in the Generating Creativity Microcredential course from the University of Melbourne.

Effectively overcoming challenges

Florencia Aimo:

“A travel and tourism based business like ours covers a lot of different locations, so the nuances of any situation can inevitably vary by market as well as brand. When the operating environment over indexes on the unexpected or is subject to rapid change, collaborating with local teams and empowering them to apply their own approaches and know-how is ever more important in making and then, where necessary, refining the right decisions.

A facilitation approach to leadership hinges on strong, consistent communication, a willingness to listen and the ability to break challenges down so that they can be rebuilt, with the help of employee expertise, into workable solutions with a compelling business case. More than at any other time, during periods of uncertainty people want to know what to do and what not to do, which involves leaders helping them understand and appreciate what they are doing, why they are doing it and what they need from their teams. They then need to be energised around common goals, made to feel that they are contributing to positive responses, and given the tools, trust and time to make this a reality.”

Equip yourself with this essential leadership skill and others by enrolling in the Leading Teams Microcredential course from the University of Melbourne.

Recognition and awareness

Darian Misko:

“As I’ve grown and learnt as a leader, and particularly in light of everything 2020 has brought, I’ve come to place a great deal of significance on taking the time to try and better understand others. Making yourself aware of motivations, perspectives and concerns, whether your own or those of colleagues, peers or partners, sets you up to support the kind of holistic dialogue which leads to more positive outcomes, more consistently. This could be in negotiation, conflict resolution or personnel performance.

If left unchecked, uncertainty can trigger a range of negative emotions from anxiety to anger, and behaviours including lethargy, avoidance and overcomplication. This is why personalised, upfront conversations are something leaders need to become comfortable with and take onboard themselves. In doing so, relationships can move forward with greater shared understanding of the situation and the individuals or entities involved. Purely contractual arrangements can be guided towards truly collaborative partnerships and teams can become more adaptable, communal and productive when members feel safe in expressing themselves.”

Equip yourself with this essential leadership skill and others by enrolling in the Effective NegotiationPerformance Management or Creativity and Innovation Microcredential course from the University of Melbourne.

Your journey from good to great leadership during these uncertain times and beyond can be aided and accelerated by expert-led, industry-aligned upskilling in the form of a Microcredential from the University of Melbourne. Melbourne MicroCerts are accessible and affordable short courses, which take in a diverse set of subjects and bring together cutting-edge techniques with practical professional application to offer the kind of adaptable expertise crucial to a future of leading from the front.


With special thanks to:

  • Florencia Aimo, Area Director of Marketing, Australia, New Zealand & Pacific Marriott International
  • Darian Misko, Division Manager, Commercial Australian Grand Prix Corporation