How to lead when the only certainty is uncertainty

Humankind has always been known for its innovation and ability to advance in technology and science. Most of human development and technology is the product of the last 200 years of history. In fact, we are developing technology and innovation at an exponentially increasing rate.

Yet for all the progress we have made, the world currently seems to find itself in a state of perpetual crisis. 2020 was a terrible year for many, but the warning signs were there long before it began. Hard talks about climate change were becoming unavoidable, international political tensions were rising, radicalism had flared up, the spread of misinformation was growing, and big tech had already been exposed for unethical data handling. It seems that we are, in fact, living in an era of crisis.

Nothing of this should come across as alarmist, however. If anything, we have always been living in an era of crisis – we just have the digital tools today to see the extent of it. All this is to say that the only real certainty we find in the world is that of uncertainty – and this is especially true of the world of business.

Because there is nothing certain about the shape of the world tomorrow, whether it is two months or 15 years from now, businesses must find a way to adapt and prepare for an uncertain world in a way that works independently of their tangible resources and the flux of world affairs, which are completely outside of their control.

One of the great markers for businesses who traversed 2020 with skill and success is resilience. Now, even though resilience may seem like a passive trait for a business leader, it is anything but. The easiest response to crisis for any business is that of reaction, but reaction is a narrow-focused problem-magnifying response. It doesn’t solve the problem, because in a time of crisis, the problem is the only thing that is constant. Instead, a resilient response tackles the problem head on by acknowledging that new boundaries must be created and working to the advantage of itself, despite the surrounding crisis.

Here are some attitude changes that business leaders can make in order to take a more resilient approach to inconsistency and uncertainty:

  1. Shift your focus from panic, which is rooted in the moment of crisis, to planning. Your first instinct may be to make drastic changes to structure or to plug the holes that are emerging left, right, and centre, when the focus should rather be on what the envisioned outcome is at the end of the response. If you know where you want to be, it becomes so much easier to make the right decisions.
  2. Worry less about internal processes and focus more on how the crisis is affecting your clients/customers. Sometimes the best decisions come from asking how to best deliver a service/product for a changed market and not from shifting internal resources to cater to the market you had before the crisis. Decision-making thus shifts from being focused inward to being focused outward.
  3. Set goals focused on recovery, not survival. Perhaps your first instinct in a time of crisis is to figure out how to stay afloat by managing the crisis, instead of managing the course of action towards a new way of doing business. Goals that are directed towards future stability and growth put you in a position to control your fate instead of fate controlling you.
  4. Financial planning and forecasting must take precedence over penny-pinching. After all, your aim is not to hold on to the financial resources that you have in the vain hope that things will get better, but to use those resources as a means to continue turning a profit. This is where cashflow management and business accounting advice makes a world of difference. Use the numbers at your disposal, along with a clear strategy to make the most of your finances.
  5. Instil an attitude of reinvention within your organisational structureYour business relies on more than just your strategy, it relies on the everyday employees who keep its engine running. Focus on instilling a company-wide vision and blueprint for forward momentum. Be sincere about the effects of crisis on your business, but shift the focus to the new vision, giving your employees the roadmap to get there. If all the role players work towards a communal goal, your success will be much easier to attain.

Resilience is key to a world facing perpetual crisis. It takes the ongoing problem on, not as a problem to be solved in order to return to a previous state, but as an obstacle to overcome and eventually avoid altogether by setting a new course.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied upon as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your financial adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)




We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. By continuing to browse, you agree to our use of cookies

IC Marais

Professional experience:

IC Marais is a certified CA (SA) with public sector and private sector technical knowledge based on 5 years’ Public Sector accounting, auditing and financial management experience and 5 years audit, tax and accounting experience. Detailed knowledge of private and public sector accounting and auditing standards (GRAP, IPSAS, IFRS, IAS, ISA) and public sector financial legislation (MFMA, etc.)

He enjoys the outdoors, hunting and fishing.


Professional experience:

In 1995, Schalk started as a trainee at Warner and Newton (which became Moores Rowland in 1997 and then Mazars Moores Rowland in 2007) in Bloemfontein. In 1998, Schalk was appointed as manager at Moores Rowland, where he became a partner in 2003. Schalk received his Postgraduate Certificate in Advanced Taxation in 2006 and in 2009 he received his Certificate in the Administration of Estates.


Professional experience:

Cedric started as a trainee at Warner and Newton (which became Moores Rowland in 1997 and Mazars Moores Rowland in 2007), Bloemfontein, in 1986. After completion of his articles, he joined the Special Investigations Division of the Department of Finance (SA Revenue Services) as a senior inspector from 1990 to 1991.


Professional experience:

Lucha started her career as a tax inspector at the Inland Revenue Department of New Zealand. After this she worked in commerce in Canada, Mexico and the United States.

On her return to South Africa, she completed her CA training contract with us and has been with Newtons ever since. She became a Partner in 2012.

Apart from her CA(SA) qualification she also holds a postgraduate certificate in Advanced Taxation (2005) and has the overall responsibility for training as our Training Officer.