Kate Davis on How To Navigate Uncertainty.
Kate Davis of Meraki House Consultants is a strategic leadership advisor and agent of sustainable change. In this interview, she shares insights with The Industry Leaders about how to navigate uncertainty as a business leader.
Could you please share a bit about yourself, your background, and the journey that has led you to become an entrepreneur? What makes your perspective unique on the subject of leadership and navigating uncertainty?
To introduce myself, I am the co-founder of Meraki House, where we help businesses be better in three areas - people, profit, and the planet. I am also a leadership and executive coach, and an organisational change management specialist. During a varied career from law, event management and change management, I have built and run high performing teams for over 25 years, and can see 'inside' an organisation to see what's going on very quickly - it's my superpower! Having been in leadership positions across my career, leading teams and now helping others to navigate change and uncertainty I have decades of experience, and the lived experiences of my clients to share.
You and your business have presumably faced some interesting challenges and changes over the years. Can you describe a key moment when you felt uncertainty was at its peak?
Many businesses hit a point of financial uncertainty and mine is no exception. With several key accounts hitting their own financial issues and creating a perfect storm in my own. With salaries to pay and overheads to meet, the uncertainty of business ownership was very stressful at that point. My first approach with this situation, and any situation that is happening to me, is to take a good hard look at what is real in the here and now. It's easy to panic and future-fret which can lead to even more instability. What is the situation right now? How far away is the immediate danger and what can I do to mitigate it? As my partner puts it 'how can we keep the crocodiles away from the canoe?' This approach helps to ground your thinking and stops the panic. You can then look forward into the future for both opportunities and threats and make a plan. Admitting you don't have all the answers, too, is a powerful tool. Never be afraid to ask for help and advice.
From your experience, what are the core principles or values that guide a leader during uncertain times?
The first principle in leadership at any point is self-awareness. Understanding your own strengths and weaknesses, your limits and belief about yourself means that you are able to put the negatives and the ego to one side, lean on your strengths and meet your challenges with confidence and humility. which will create a sense of security for the team. Secondly, awareness of others, their hopes, fears and strengths. Leading with empathy and understanding, and creating a sense of openness and honesty will allow the team to come with you. Building relational trust and psychological safety in the team creates a stronger unit and bond that will better adapt to uncertain times Thirdly, a strong sense of vision and purpose. When you know why your company exists, the change that you want to make in the world, and why you all get out of bed in the morning, you are better able to align the team. You need to make sure that the vision still rings true during the uncertainty, and through the other side, but it will give you renewed energy and drive. Reconfirming to myself why I do what I do has helped me through some tricky patches, and often shows me the next step I need to take to get into smoother waters.
How do you cultivate a culture of resilience and adaptability within your team? Can you share a practical example where this culture made a significant difference?
Cultivating a culture of resilience and adaptability within a team requires intentional effort, leadership commitment, and consistent actions. Leading by example and demonstrating a growth mindset reminds you, and shows the rest of the team how uncertainty can lead to opportunity. Having the right team around you, with different skill sets and approaches, is invaluable. We can't all be great at everything, so to have people with lazer focus on the here-and-now, the processes and due diligence alongside those who are idea-generators means that the team can create new answers to the problem, and stress test them quickly. Having a culture of safety and open communication also really helps here, where people aren't afraid to try something new, to fail fast and innovate to get ahead of the curve, and your competition. Within Meraki House, we have a great mixture of people-skills. the dreamers and innovators, and the Guardians who help us to assess whether any of the ideas have solid foundations. We are in the business of innovation, so we need to make sure that it's not all uncertainty and great ideas - that some of them may actually land and grow legs!
Many aspiring leaders struggle with the fear of failure, especially when the path ahead is unclear. What strategies or mental frameworks have you developed to overcome this fear and embrace uncertainty as an opportunity?
The fear of failure can have a huge impact on individuals, and therefore the organisations they lead. The fear often comes from having unreasonably high expectations for yourself, or you may also struggle with perfectionism. This fear often leads to procrastination and stagnation, never trying anything new for fear of failure. Learning how to fail, but fail fast, is an important lesson for everyone, but especially leaders, as your employees are looking to you to see what behaviours you model and what your expectations are of them. Creating a culture where failure is accepted, and handled, will mean that you are allowed and encouraged to innovate - nothing new and positive can come from inaction and fear. When I am faced with this fear, I remind myself of this - that some failure is inevitable when you are trying to grow, innovate or create something new. Without failure we don't learn and if we don't learn, we stagnate. I will often journal on what the fear is underlying the fear, to expand on what the worst possible outcome of the failure is. It's never as bad as you think, and I remind myself that the worst failure would be not to try.
In your opinion, what are the most common mistakes leaders make during uncertain times? Can you offer a real-life example where recognizing and avoiding such a mistake led to success?
To panic and react to uncertainty, not to respond! A degree of uncertainty is the only certainty in any endeavour. Whether the uncertainty is internal to your organisation, your industry or even international political or socio-economic uncertainty. it will always be there, so we need to manage how we respond to it. I would always recommend starting before the uncertainty starts to impact. None of us like uncertainty imposed on us, so having some measure of control in place can be key to managing uncertainty. Have we created a back up plan? Do we have a realistic and appropriate risk register, which is regularly updated? Have we thought through 'what would we do if X happened' Daring to think the unthinkable when presented with uncertainty can create amazing opportunities, but only when you know what the worst case could be, and that you've mitigated as much risk as possible.
Looking towards the future, how do you plan to continue evolving your leadership style to meet new uncertainties and challenges? What advice would you give to others looking to do the same?
A key learning for me has been that I don't have all the answers, and that that's OK. We all have different strengths and challenges, but we think that our strengths are commonplace and shared by everyone, but our weaknesses are ours alone. It's obviously not true. but holds so many people back. Having the right people around you is key. Members of your team with different skillsets will help you to see the problem from different angles, having external advisors will give you different insight and mentors and advisors will help you to keep your head. My advice would be to surround yourself with people who see the world differently to you, but who are aligned on a common purpose. At Meraki House we are very different people, but are committed to helping others be better and do better. We complement each pthers skillsets and fill in the gaps. I would also advocate having support outside of your organisation. My clients come to me to help them navigate change, and uncertainty, and I have a team of mentors who help me do the same.
You've clearly demonstrated a willingness to learn and grow through experience. Are there any books, mentors, or resources that have particularly influenced your leadership style? How would you recommend others to approach their leadership development journey?
My recommendation would always be to stay curious. Learn, and don't be afraid to try new things. A great book to help with this is The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks. He talks about how we keep ourselves stuck to our own perceived upper limits when we should be taking more risks and dealing with uncertainty. Simon Sinek is also a great source of inspiration for compassionate strategic leadership. My own mentor, Steve Cockram of GiANT Worldwide, has helped me to understand myself to be able to rise above my own limits and then to use that confidence and security to help me light the beacon in others. His work with Jeremie Kubichek on leadership voice and the ways harness your own leadership in books like 5Voices and 100x Leader are both informative and inspirational. You should definitely check them out!
For those who want to learn more about your leadership philosophy or explore the products and services offered by your company, what's the best way to connect with you or find out more about your work?
Please come and find me, and say hello at www.linkedin.com/in/katedavisleadership