Uncertainty is a business killer. As a business owner, you're already dealing with many unknowns. To successfully navigate them, you need to be able to rely on some future projections that represent a sense of stability. The current coronavirus pandemic has just about made that impossible.

While some companies can get around that uncertainty through the use of advanced technology, others are caught up in the current crisis. This is where leadership is needed.

Leaders, however, are subject to the same level of uncertainty as everyone else. To guide others through the crisis and make better business decisions you have to be able to successfully manage the uncertainty you feel.

Learn to Control Uncertainty

In writing my book, The Sniper Mind: Eliminate Fear, Deal with Uncertainty, and Make Better DecisionsI spent three years and more than 400 hours interviewing neuroscientists and over 100 snipers from the elite special operations forces across the world. There is probably no place that presents a more fear-inducing scenario and incredible uncertainty than an active battlefield. Yet snipers prove themselves capable of overcoming the debilitating effects of uncertainty to achieve their goals.

They do it by training themselves to use three distinct attributes we all possess:

  • Data processing: mission-critical data derived from external sources, (i.e. what information do you have that will help you handle this?)
  • Background knowledge: experience (i.e. what have you learned in your life that can be of direct use in this situation?)
  • Information retrieval: memory (i.e. which of your acquired skill sets is of direct use to you in this instance?)

Then, they separate the uncertainty they experience into two types: subjective uncertainty, which is an internal emotional state that can be controlled, and objective uncertainty, which stems from having insufficient information about external circumstances. Here's how it works.

Define the intangibles.

Subjective uncertainty is what you experience when you're presented with a task like navigating a business through a seemingly existential crisis. To prevent overwhelm, focus on defining the intangibles:

  • How difficult is the current task?
  • What mental resources do you need to overcome it?
  • What are the risks associated with it?
  • How do you feel dealing with it all?

Assign, for instance, a one-to-10 level of threat to the crisis your business is facing. Give the same value to your chances of pulling through it. Ask yourself what ideally would help you here. Playing these scenarios in your head ensures you're too busy calculating odds to have time to freeze with fear--and the activity creates a sense of control that keeps your emotions in check.

Analyze the data as it comes in.

Objective uncertainty is generated by the unknowns you face when the quality of information you have at your disposal is poor. The less you know about what's going on, the more unprepared you are and the more fluid a situation appears to be to you. To deal with objective uncertainty you need to analyze the data as it comes in and factor it in as you make decisions. 

If you're new to this, or the task appears too daunting, let me break it down even further. Objective uncertainty is itself separated into psychological uncertainty and psychological approximation.

Frame the questions that trouble you the most.

Psychological uncertainty arises out of a lack of hard knowledge of a particular situation. None of us has experienced a pandemic before, for example, so it is hard to determine if it will destroy our business or even kill us. A high level of psychological uncertainty makes you freeze. To overcome it, you need to frame the questions that trouble you in the clearest way possible.

For example, you may ask yourself: Will I still have a business to go back to when this is over when all my employees work elsewhere or have moved away?

Framing provides clarity, which brings up another set of questions that provide options. For example: How would I go about finding new employees in the post-crisis world?

Run practical scenarios to determine your next steps.

Psychological approximation represents a range of knowledge about a particular situation. You can determine how long your business can hold on for. You can calculate what will happen to your customers, suppliers, and employees. Your calculations will represent a range of values (i.e. 50 percent of my customers will come back to me regardless), which allows you to determine a practical course of action.

Then run practical scenarios on how to best control operating costs (i.e suspend operations, close down, pivot, etc). You can also calculate what personal resources (and steps you need to take) to survive and reduce anxiety about your income or health. Then determine what skills you have to get through it (knowledge, connections, savings, available loans, support networks, etc). 

Think like that and uncertainty is just another obstacle your business can overcome.