Leading in Uncertainty

By Iqbal Thokan

A good leader knows, a great leader understands. Understand the needs of your people, your business and your customers to stay relevant, survive and thrive.

A good leader has sufficient knowledge to solve problems, however, great leaders have the ability to gain wisdom from a deeper understanding of their surroundings and resources. This skill allows a great leader to push their own limits as well as the limits of their team to achieve success in uncertain times.

There are tons of literature and information on the various qualities of a leader or the different leadership styles of successful people, but we are all unique, which requires us to adopt our own unique leadership style, however we need to keep in mind that a great leader is able to move their people to doing what is right for the business rather than just getting them to do the right things.

A great leader has a purpose and this purpose has a vision and it is this purpose and vision that people buy into and share as part of their own human development and growth. People do business with people and as a great leader we need to be focused on the people aspects that drive our business. Anyone that thinks otherwise has not yet come to the reality that COVID19 has brought. Without the movement of people fulfilling their needs and desires, the world has come to a halt and countries, economies and homes are being affected.

A great leader is a selfless leader and is in tune with the needs of society at large, this does not mean that they are unable to make a profit, but rather they realise that if their product or service, services the needs of all the people at stake, from suppliers, to employees to customers, their solutions become solutions of value, making the product or service offering something that is wanted and in demand.

A great leader is able to connect and understand their people in way that makes them feel comfortable which allows us to build trust. Trust is an important factor for us as humans for survival and in a time of crisis we need our people to trust us that we will be able to survive any hardship together.

A great leader encourages risk taking, of course within limitations, as this fosters creativity, maximising the true potential of those we work with. A great leader is not born, but develops over time, learning, adopting and more importantly sharing what they know and what they have.

In the 1960s, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross developed a wonderful model that takes us through the 5 stages of emotional change that a person goes through when experiencing a tragedy or
tough time in their lives. The 5 stages detailed in the Kubler-Ross change curve are: denial or shock; denying that the event such as COID19 exists and is true. Like myself, I am sure that you have come across many people that are still in this stage. The second stage is anger; angry that we have to be in lockdown or that certain of or freedoms have been taken away, or angry that our businesses are now struggling. The third stage is bargaining; bargaining with ourselves trying to find a compromise of how we can survive the crisis. The fourth stage is depression; its always depressing to have to come to terms with the fact that we have to compromise what we had for what can get and the final stage is acceptance; accepting that this is the new now and we now have to find creative and unique ways to stay relevant, survive and thrive.

The Kubler-Ross change curve is a great tool as it allows us leaders to understand the different emotional challenges that ourselves as well as the people around us are going through during the crisis we are experiencing and this gives us insight into how to get a better understating of our people and manage them more effectively. Leading within times of uncertainty requires us to stay informed about everything internally as well as externally to our business. We need to connect with our suppliers, our team as well as with our customers in a way that allows us to develop a relationship of comfort and trust. We need to understand where they are within their own emotional stage of dealing with the crisis and we need to guide rather than command and unite all those around us in order for us to stay relevant, survive and thrive.

Iqbal Thokan is an experienced business management consultant and the founder and co-owner of breedingpositivity.com

To succeed in today’s competitive global economy, companies need to assess their leadership at all levels. Do they have more bosses than leaders? Is their management smart or wise?

Smart leaders have the knowledge to solve problems, but wise leaders also strive to pursue a deeper understanding in order to see how far the limits can be pushed to achieve success. While there are many qualities of a leader that companies value, it’s wisdom in business management that can have a profound effect on not only the bottom line but also on those who support the company’s mission.

The Importance of Wisdom in Business Management

Wisdom in business management goes beyond meeting goals. Wise leaders have certain leadership skills that transcend the everyday requirements of a job, including their approach to decision-making. Wise leaders do not make one-sided decisions; instead, they are affected by the varying perceptions of their team as well as those outside the company. Their decisions are informed by their personal experience and the experience of others, and also take into account what is good not only for the company but also for society as a whole.

Wise leaders model and encourage free thinking and risk-taking because they believe testing theories and arguing outcomes help cultivate wisdom for all involved. Another way they aim to maximize the potential of others is by pushing them far enough so they’re just over their personal threshold of being uncomfortable. Why? Because being in a state of slight discomfort can foster wisdom as well as breed creativity.

At the heart of all business is people, and wise leaders know how to bring out the best in others and mobilize them to achieve greatness.

Leadership Development: How to Gain Wisdom

Gaining wisdom takes time, but everyone has the capacity to become wiser. Here are a few ways to develop leadership traits that can influence your wisdom.

  • Enrich your life. Wise leaders do more listening than talking. They seek ways to constantly grow to understand the breadth and depth of the world around them. They have a quest for knowledge that knows no bounds. A graduate degree such as a Master of Business Administration (MBA), a master’s degree in leadership, or a business management degree can help impart knowledge and skills to transform professionals into wise leaders who make a positive impact on others.
  • Improve your emotional intelligence. Unlike being born with a top IQ, emotional intelligence can be improved. Wise leaders tend to have high emotional intelligence, which includes being self-aware, understanding personal values as well as the values of others, and respecting those around them.
  • Invest in the development of others. It can be lonely at the top, and wise leaders understand the importance of investing in their team. When developing others through mentorship, coaching, and leading by example, wise leaders increase their wisdom through a natural reciprocity.
  • Be authentic and true to yourself. Wise leaders understand choices and their impact on the world around them. Authenticity creates opportunity.


Credit: waldenu.edu

It is nearly impossible to escape from the unending stream of global unrest and financial upheaval.

And yet, in extraordinary times people turn to their leaders for guidance and reassurance more than ever before.

While no one can predict with confidence what will happen next, it would seem likely that uncertainty will generate volatility for some time to come. It is important to note that CEOs and others in senior management positions have no immunity from feelings of helplessness and apprehension fostered by these events. The prudent CEO may ask, “What can I do or say to help the people in my organization cope with what has happened and what is to come?”

This question acknowledges that the dynamics of current events are unique and may need to be approached in a different way. Based on RHR’s years of experience in leading change and what we know about the behaviors of those facing times of uncertainty, we have put together our insights regarding the specific challenges you may be currently facing as a leader.

There are four key concepts when leading people during times of uncertainty: Inform, Connect, Guide, and Unite.

As people struggle to make sense of a new situation, they are particularly hungry for information and analysis during the opening stages. For this reason, you may find that they are most open to communication efforts delivered at the onset. Seizing early opportunities to share available information can have greater impact than waiting to deliver “perfect” news at a later date.

For obvious reasons, honesty is critical in such communications. Leaders must candidly acknowledge the downsides and the unknowns. This will create credibility when painting a picture of their organization’s strengths and encouraging people to focus on the solid fundamentals. Most importantly, it is the leader’s job to help people make sense of the changing conditions, anticipate the likely scenarios ahead, and make up their own minds about how to best deal with these situations.

TIP: Communicate early and frequently. The risk of overcommunicating is far less important than leaving the field open to catastrophic rumors. Embrace humility. Tell the truth; overpromising is only likely to backfire. Emphasize that recovery is a marathon, not a sprint.

It is important to generate a feeling of trust with your employees. This will not happen if your communications appear remote or artificial. People need to feel a highly personal presence and connection. Senior executives who reach out to their employees and foster warmth and support will be seen as a credible source of reassurance and information.

On the personal side, leaders need to acknowledge that they, too, are affected. Admitting it is not a sign of weakness. On the contrary, it signals that they are in touch with their own feelings and with others as fellow human beings. Everyone, including senior executives, may need to seek out support—from friends, family members, mentors, and counselors.

TIP: If and when dramatic events occur, give people opportunities to safely express their emotions. Reach out to employees on a personal basis. Get out of your office and into the hallway. Be there for them. Encourage everyone to do the same.

More than at any other time, during periods of uncertainty people want strong leaders who are comfortable giving direction on what to do and what not to do. However, inconsiderate or too early calls to “Put this behind us” and “Get back to work” will probably be counterproductive. Talking about the long-term visions and strategies of the company will not be effective when people are bracing for further bad news, or emotionally recovering from previous disclosures.

You may find it beneficial to start with more basic elements. The first step is to provide clear guidance on business- critical priorities that everyone can rally around and contribute to. As those concerns are being addressed, invite people to think of the unique skills and qualities that have kept them in business with their internal or external customers. How can they leverage those and make a difference to others who are dealing with the same issues?

TIP: Give steady guidance. Focus on the concrete steps on which all employees can align. Empower them to be part of the solution within that framework. Patiently hammer your message—its stability may be as important as its content.

Turbulent times remind us of the importance of human community. People value it. They need to rally behind those things that bind them together. Leaders can pull their employees closer to the company by reinforcing what makes them a unique group. Chief executives can help crystallize these feelings to energize a group toward joint action. You may find that actively dealing with a difficult situation will actually enhance a sense of togetherness and resilience as a community.

The leader who taps into aspects of who people are and how they function sends a strong message in times of uncertainty: “What we’re doing now validates what we’ve always done; we can adapt to change and still be true to who we are.”

TIP: Celebrate who you are as a business community. Emphasize connectedness to your industry, your company, your customers, and one another.

About Customers
The concepts outlined above also apply to your customers. Executives up to the highest level must not be afraid to pick up the phone and let customers know that the organization is there for them and will be of whatever help it can be. Customers need to knowthey have a partner who will be on their side in turbulent times.

TIP: Reach out to your customers on a regular basis. Maintain relationships even when no concrete business is discussed.

The Importance of Leadership
In uncertain times, it is essential to bridge the conceptual difference between “leading” and “managing.” Organizations need leaders to show the way forward and instill a sense of energy and inspiration. They need the same leaders to be visibly involved, making sure that visions are translated into concrete and sensible action plans, and that those programs are actively pursued and followed through.

TIP: Create a separate “decision room” where your management team can discuss all options frankly and flexibly, then stick to a common message toward employees and the external world.

RHR has found that people under stress react in predictable manners.

  • Lack of focus
  •  Decreased productivity
  • Heightened conflicts
  • High increase in rumor mill output
  • Increase in internal competition
  • Increase in silo mentality (both in function and level)
  • Reduced communication
  • Delays in analysis
  • Increased paranoia
  • Lack of motivation
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Significant increase in questions
  • Frequent sick days
  • Job searching at work

These behaviors are typical during times of anxiety and are impossible to eradicate. However, their effect can be mitigated.


Credit: rhrinternational.com

The coronavirus pandemic has created massive uncertainty in our country and our world. In the coming days, weeks, and possibly months, work and life as we know it will change fundamentally. And while there is no real way to know exactly what will happen, how long it will last, and what the long-term impact of all of this will be, one thing is for certain…things are uncertain and probably will be for a while.

Strong leadership is essential in uncertain times, and it’s hard. We have to be able to navigate the stress, challenge, and fear of the situation ourselves, and, in turn, support those around us as they navigate it as well. We have to manage diverse people, dynamics, priorities, and changes. And, in a situation like we’re in right now, so much is unknown and this whole thing is both unprecedented and evolving rapidly, which makes it even more challenging.

On top of all this, we are being told to work from home and practice social isolation, which means that just about all of our communication and interaction with those we work with and manage has to be done by video, phone, email, text, Slack, and other digital platforms.

A simple example of leadership in the midst of challenges I heard someone talk about recently is when we’re on an airplane. When we fly, sometimes we experience turbulence. Often the pilot will come on and say, “Ladies and gentlemen this is your captain speaking. We’re going to be experiencing some bumps up ahead, so I’ve asked the flight attendants to take their seats and to discontinue their service until we get through this.” When we hear this, we know that things are going to change and that we need to fasten our seat belts and prepare. When those bumps do eventually come, even if they’re significant and scary, we usually feel okay because we had some heads up and we know the pilot and crew are aware of the situation.

On the other hand, if we don’t hear that message from the pilot and the plane hits unexpected turbulence, it’s often way scarier and upsetting. And, if the pilot says nothing or comes on and simply tries to tell us that it isn’t that bad, that often makes things worse.

During these uncertain times, we want to be much more like the first pilot in this example, not the second.

Here are a few things you can do as you navigate things as a leader in the coming days, weeks, and possibly months while you and your team make your way through this time of intense uncertainty:

1. Take good care of yourself – Using another airplane analogy (and one we hear all the time), it’s essential for you to put your own oxygen mask on first. In other words, if you’re going to lead others through a time of stress, fear, and uncertainty, it’s essential for you to manage your own experience of all of this yourself as best as you can. It’s easy to let your self-care and stress management practices go by the wayside when things are nutty and you have people counting on you.  However, it’s important right now to double down on taking care of yourself first – not in a selfish way, but so you are able to be there for others authentically.

2. Communicate constantly – People are freaked out right now, understandably. When things are stressful and uncertain, folks tend to assume the worst possible scenarios in their minds – “the business is going to go under, I’m going to lose my job, me and my family are going to get sick, the world is going to come to an end, etc.” And while you may not be able guarantee much of anything at the moment, what you can do is communicate what you do know and how you are truly feeling with those around you. The more openly you communicate, the less likely people on your team are to make up stuff that is unproductive and unhealthy.

3. Check in with people on a personal level – Work and life still must go on in the midst of all of this, and while you may have a lot of specific things to check in with people about in terms of their work, projects, and deadlines, a big part of your job, especially now, is to check in with people personally. Ask how they are doing and really listen. See how things are going with their families. Many people feel scared and isolated in the midst of this. As a leader you play a significant role in their lives – not just as their boss, but as someone they’re looking to and counting on for support, guidance, and reassurance.

4. Be Flexible and Nimble – It’s important to remember that you and everyone around you has never been here before. There’s no playbook. Because of this, you’re going to need to be as flexible and nimble as possible. Some of the things you’ll do won’t work, and you’ll have to adjust – both in a practical and leadership sense. Try to check your ego at the door and just respond to who and what you’re dealing with in the moment. The more open you are to doing and trying new things with a growth mindset, the better it will be for you, your team, and everyone around you.

5. Be Real – This is a hard and scary time for just about everyone involved. Your team doesn’t need or expect you to be perfect or super human, they want you to be real. It’s not only okay, but really important that you let your team know how you’re really feeling and what’s truly going on for you. Showing up authentically and vulnerably not only liberates you, it allows your team to do the same. It creates the psychological safety that is necessary for your team to adapt, adjust, and perform in the face of all of this. And, it reminds everyone around you that you’re all doing the best you can and, most importantly, that you’re all in this together.


Credit: forbes.com

Times of uncertainty are often windows of opportunity, if we can remain calm enough to spot them. If you’re in a leadership position, it’s critical to develop the skill to do just that.

All of us, in one way or another, are being impacted by the current state of things due to the current coronavirus pandemic. Businesses are having to find new ways of doing things in a matter of minutes vs. months, much less years. With all the news primarily focusing on what’s going wrong or could go wrong, it’s critical that we give equal energy to identifying what is working and where are the benefits or opportunities in the midst of all this upheaval.

Some possibilities include:

  • The ability for your team to experience the flexibility that comes from using remote work options
  • Opportunity for team members to catch up on work and upcoming deadlines
  • Time for your business to do proactive planning and strategic thinking
  • An opening for up-skilling team members through training and development

However, in order to reap any of the above benefits we need to be able to remain calm and remember that this too shall pass. And if that is indeed the case, then it makes sense to be proactive vs. waiting for everything to eventually clear up.

But sometimes the hardest thing to do is imagine and commit to a future we want to see when everything around us feels like we have little to no control. The reality is we never did control more than our own thoughts and decisions. Today is no different in that regard. Which means, we should continue to put the majority of our energy into consciously choosing our thoughts and decisions vs. solely reacting to external factors.

With that, this may actually be the perfect time for taking some actions we usually skip due to a perceived lack of time or priority. Consider doing the following activities during this time of uncertainty:

Keep the staff connected to the big picture. Communication is critical during a time like this. That’s not news to anyone. But what people want to hear from their leader is a bit different than what they would find out in the news or social media. Below are five topics a leader should discuss on the regular with their team during times of chaos and beyond.

  1. What do you know and what can you share? This is the common update we provide. But it should include covering if there is information you do know and are unable to share at the time. If there are decisions being made that you know of but can’t discuss, find what you can share, including an explanation of why you are unable to discuss further details.
  2. What don’t you know? Be upfront with what you don’t know. This is not the time to try to appear as the superhero. It’s better to have your team feel your authenticity and be able to trust you are being up front with them.
  3. What do you think about the current circumstances? As the leader, your staff wants to know what your viewpoint is. They are looking to hear the thought process of someone who can be calm under pressure, embrace and deal with reality, while still keeping an eye on what’s possible and a projecting a positive outlook.
  4. What are you doing to make things better? This is as much about getting them what they need to do their jobs as it is about your relationship and connection with the clients, stakeholders and other leaders that impact their livelihoods.
  5. What do you need from them? This should be an ongoing dialogue as things unfold. Your ability to build clarity for your staff on what’s expected from them during a constantly shifting world is a big part of keeping employees engaged, whether they are working remotely or not.

Get savvy at how to run effective meetings using various meeting tools. At this point, you’ve most likely been brushing up on how to hold meetings using virtual tools. But, be sure to get good at running effective meetings. Period. Meetings have gotten a bad reputation due to lack of agenda, focus or outcomes. That doesn’t change simply because you’re meeting virtually. In fact, it’s even harder to ensure engagement, so you’ll want to make sure you get what makes a successful meeting.

Spend time to brainstorm ideal circumstances and outcomes a year from now with your team. This is a good way to keep the team proactive vs. solely reactive to what’s coming at them in this moment. This is also a strong exercise in optimism. This helps prime the team’s minds for seeing opportunities, not just roadblocks.

This isn’t about pie in the sky thinking. This is about identifying the direction you and the team want to steer the ship in the middle of the storm. This will tell you which waves to wait out and which ones to use in order to go further, faster.

Discuss possible opportunities popping up in the economy, industry and company. You and your team members are probably tracking all the possible negative impacts or bombshells that connect to what you all do for a living. You want to set the tone that the team will spend at least, if not more, time on tracking the positive outcomes. In the book, “Positive Intelligence,” the author, Shirzad Chamine, explains that we often focus on developing our IQ to ensure we know the facts about the work we do. In recent years, we’ve even focused on developing emotional intelligence, or EQ, to help us navigate the interpersonal nature of our work world. But an overlooked area is positive intelligence, or PQ, which is the ability to spot the opportunities in situations, regardless of how negative they may appear at first. But this requires being intentional about focusing on what’s possible. Your role as a leader is to help your team develop this capability.

Use slow or downtime for skill development of the team. Training is often treated as a nice to have vs. need to have. That means it’s put on the back burner unless it’s mandatory compliance or must have technical training. Therefore, staff and managers often don’t get the development on topics like communication, innovation, collaboration, etc. Yet, not knowing how to navigate the gray of working with others in a dynamic and ever-changing environment can be the main loss of time, morale and profitability in your company.


Credit: forbes.com

This article was first published on March 19, 2020.

From global boardrooms to small start-ups, right now there is a demand across all workplaces for level-headedness, empathy, and effective leadership. Are there causes for concern? Absolutely. From hitting numbers, to juggling family responsibilities, and the economic outlook, more burning questions keep emerging every day.

As we know, unpredictability is bad for business and team morale, and coronavirus is causing tremendous uncertainty in our work and private lives. Yet, adding to the confusion is not going to solve any of these problems. Nor is it going to contribute to the recovery of our businesses, economy, or our health and happiness.

In unsettled times, leaders must take a closer look at their own behavior and ask if they are contributing to the panic. Or are we leading our teams and our communities into a more productive conversation?

Human dynamics are very predictable. Whether we are in a room together or operating from our homes through advanced technologies, it is hard not to be influenced by the current barrage of negative images we see from the outside world.

Now more than ever, most leaders understand the importance of stepping up and demonstrating responsibility. But, where to start? Here are three ways we believe leaders can turn panic into productivity:

Beware of Destructive Patterns

What drives our behavior in a crisis? Psychology research shows that our biases intensify when subjected to the vicious cycle of news during situations like this one. We have almost 200 biases that rule our cognitive abilities on a regular basis. Heightened threats, such as the coronavirus, mean three of them become most active.

Currently negative bias is at play, which provides focus on gloom-ridden news and events. With a plethora of opportunities to get hooked online or through cable TV, our brains are flooded, and we actively seek more and more.

Availability bias becomes heightened, where we struggle to let go of what we’ve just observed. Right now, the implications of the coronavirus on our professional and private lives are highly disturbing, and our attention begets even more attention.

Finally, our confirmation bias kicks, in and we actively seek more and more negative news to confirm all of the beliefs that support our negativity and availability biases.

It’s not just our biases that influence us. Our emotions also play an outsized role in virtually all our decision making. Thankfully, our emotional filters let us make countless, complex decisions quickly, without engaging in an exhaustive cost-benefit analysis. Unfortunately, when our emotional foundation is being pummeled by news cycles and our cognitive biases, we can quickly spiral into negative feedback loops and destructive patterns.

If we want to turn our businesses and economy around, how we lead is critically important. It helps to understand our biases objectively and also how our emotions are shaping our decisions. Meta-observation is tricky when you’re under this type of stress; however, taking time to practice mindfulness efforts and conscious breathing can help us gain perspective, clarity, and a willingness to focus on the challenge in front of us.

Although it is important for leaders to be well-informed of current events, make the flow of updates less overwhelming by checking the news at the end of the day, rather than at every opportunity. Consider limiting time on social media, and blocking or muting some of the more alarmist commentators. Continue to take deep breaths, seek out good news stories, and share these with colleagues or friends. Taking regular breaks to manage emotions, and, where safe, get fresh air and physical exercise. If this isn’t possible, adapt your work environment, such as separating spaces at home for work and down-time.

Empathize and Recognize

Many of our reactions right now are influenced by our bodies’ innate fight-or-flight mechanisms, and our brains simply aren’t effective in a state of fear. Hormones, including noradrenaline and cortisol, impair our executive function, and make it nearly impossible to recall and remember basic information.

It is critical to re-establish a foundation of psychological safety. This is not merely about communicating travel policies and reminding people to wash their hands (which is necessary but insufficient). Instead, empathic leaders need to listen carefully to fears and concerns, address them in whatever productive way they can, and make sure that people are heard and supported.

The resulting change in neurochemistry — decreasing hormones like noradrenaline and cortisol and instead increasing the release of oxytocin — means the chemical factories of our brains start to work for us rather than against us. Teams are consequently better equipped to start calmly working around the range of issues that are emerging by the day.

When designing solutions or preparing your messaging, it is vital to show empathy. Be human and authentic by openly sharing personal challenges or experiences. Acknowledge this is an unprecedented and unpleasant situation, but that everyone is in it together.

Remote collaboration tools and virtual environments will help us ensure business continuity for a good part of 2020. However, it is important to not allow these video meetings to be dominated by multi-taskers who remain in a crisis mindset. Before we can engage effectively in the virtual world, we need to check in with one another, creating moments on calls for informal conversations, or developing support networks through buddy partnerships. People need to feel safe and protected to be productive.

We must remind our colleagues about our organization’s ambitions, reassuring ourselves that we will come out of this situation stronger and better emotionally equipped.

Encourage Small Sprints

What practical measures can leaders take to provide a focus for productivity? One of our facilitation tricks is taken from the world of sprints, hackathons, and from the principles of co-creation.

Rather than getting your teams online for another update, alignment meeting, or to address a set of issues, devise a broader challenge that may take weeks or months to address. By inviting colleagues into solving a customer or societal challenge that demands creativity, we can channel our fears through a communal process that’s oriented toward solutions and progress, providing a focus on productivity over time.

In the sprint world, we break apart challenges into their most logical sub-components, and give the pieces to task-centered teams to solve for. Consider all of the stakeholder and root cause analyses that need to be performed right now, and the number of offerings to be redesigned for virtual access. Consider using small groups, creating ideas in rapid-cycles, where teams can iterate with one another and stay connected to the higher purpose and their customers’ needs, working toward these timely solutions.

The Path Forward

As humans, we are built to survive through highly stressful situations. Coronavirus is unprecedented in its scope and impact, but as leaders, we can be a force for good. Creativity and productivity are our responsibility, and a pandemic doesn’t give us a free pass. In contrast, the health crisis is asking us to lift ourselves and our colleagues to higher levels of thought and effectiveness. We can accelerate a positive path forward by taking control of our brains, caring deeply for those around us, and managing the challenge in a way that brings out the best, rather than the worst, in our collective humanity.


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Change is an inevitable part and truth of life, and there is no running away from it. If change is well planned and formulated, it can produce positive results but even in spite of planning, change is hard to incorporate, accept and appreciate.

This article shall throw light on the Kubler-Ross Change Curve (or also Kubler-Ross Model) that is the most reliable tool to understand change and the stages associated with it. The Kubler-Ross Change Curve can be effectively used by business leaders across the world to help their workforce adapt to change and move towards success.

Understanding the Kubler-Ross change curve - Kübler-Ross Model


The Kubler-Ross Change Curve which is also known as the 5 stages of grief is a model consisting of the various levels or stages of emotions which are experienced by a person who is soon going to approach death or is a survivor of an intimate death. The 5 stages included in this model are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. This model was introduced by and is named after Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in a book called ‘Death and Dying’ which came out in the year 1969. This book, as well as the model, was inspired by her association and work with patients who were terminally ill. The psychiatrist Kubler-Ross got inclined towards this subject because of lack of research and information on the subject of death and experience of dying. She began her research by analyzing and evaluating those who were faced with death, but the examination took the form of a series of seminars and then patient interviews, etc. later on.

After the book ‘Death and Dying’ was published, the concept or the model was widely accepted, and it was found that it was valid in a majority of cases and situations relating to change. This model and her research also improved the overall understanding as well as the procedures followed in medical care. The 5 stages, according to her are transferable to different ways and degrees and may vary from person to person. Besides those who are faced by intimate death, this model also holds true in the case of others who may be faced by less serious physical conditions or trauma. Some of these situations or cases include injury, disability, work issues, relationship problems and financial problems, etc.

Relevance of Kubler-Ross Change Curve in Business

The Kubler-Ross Model also holds true when it comes to business, work or employment. Every organization needs to bring about changes in its management and policies. But besides the improvement of systems, there must be a change in the people or employees as well. If even in bringing about several changes in the systems and processes, the employees of your company persist in their old ways, and then the thousands of dollars invested will go to waste. This is why it is important for the employees too to adapt and change accordingly. Only when the workforce of an organization makes personal changes, or transitions can the company move ahead and reap the benefits.

Every organization needs to support the employees in the process of making transitions or changes. These individual transformations can be traumatic and may involve a lot of power loss and prestige issues. The easier it is for the employees to move along on their journey, the easier will it be for the organization to move towards success. Thus, this impacts the success rate and overall profits experienced by the company. The Change Curve in business is thus a powerful model that can help one understand and deal with changes and personal transitions. It helps to fathom how one will react to change and how to provide support during the process of change.

The 5 stages of grief

It is essential to understand that we do not move along the stages in a linear direction or step by step. A person tends to move into stages in a random order and may sometimes even return back to a previous stage after a certain point in time. Each stage can last for a different time period, and it is possible for a person to get stuck in a particular stage and not move on from there. The following are brief descriptions of each of the 5 stages of grief:

  1. Denial: The Stage of shock or denial is usually the first stage in the Kubler-Ross Model and is mostly short-lived. This is a phase during which one puts on a temporary defense mechanism and takes time to process certain disturbing news or reality. One may not want to believe what is happening and that it is happening to him/her. It can bring about a dip in productivity and the ability to think and act. After the initial shock subsides, one may experience denial and may remain focused on the past. Some people tend to remain in the state of denial for a long time and may lose touch with reality.
  2. Anger: When the realization finally hits, and one understands the gravity of the situation, he/she may become angry and may look for someone to blame. Anger can be manifested or expressed in many ways. While some take out the anger on themselves, others may direct it towards others around them. While some may be angry at life in general, others may blame the economy. One always tends to remain irritable, frustrated and short tempered during this stage.
  3. Bargaining: When the stage of anger passes away, one may start thinking about ways to postpone the inevitable and try to find out the best thing left in the situation. Those who are not faced by death but by another trauma may try to negotiate in the situation and come to a point of compromise. Bargaining may help to come to a sustainable solution and might bring some relief to those who are moving close to what they wish to avoid altogether. The search for a different outcome or a less traumatic one may remain on during this stage.
  4. Depression: Depression is a stage in which the person tends to feel sadness, fear, regret, guilt and other negative emotions. He/she may have completely given up by now and may now reach a dead end from where the road only seems dark. One may display signs or indifference, reclusiveness, pushing others away and zero excitement towards anything in life. This may seem like a lowest point in life with no way ahead. Some common signs of depression include sadness, low energy, feeling demotivated, losing trust in god, etc.
  5. Acceptance: When people realize that fighting the change that is coming into their life is not going to make the grief go away, they resign to the situation and accept it completely. The resigned attitude may not be a happy space but is one in which the person may stop resisting change and move ahead with it.

While some people totally resign and go into a deep state of low energy, others may try to make the most of the time left on their hand and explore new opportunities. One has come to a point of peace and is prepared to take one whatever has to follow next.


To see the application of the Kubler-Ross Change Curve, we provide two examples below.

1) The Business World application

The Change Curve is a very trusted and reliable tool that can be used to understand the stage where people are when they are going through a major or significant change in life. This insight not only helps doctors and healers understand the transition of patients but also helps managers in understanding the position at which employees are as far as adapting to change is concerned. This can thus help managers in creating tailor made methods of communication and guidance for those on the path of change.

Let’s understand stand this by dividing it into the various changes or phases of the Kubler-Ross Model:

At Stage 1 – This is the stage at which the employees or employee may be in a position of shock or denial. He or she may not be able to digest the fact that he/she has to undergo change and adapt to something new. They may need time to adjust to the changes and for a long time, they may deny that they need any. Here, as a manager or employer, the role should be to help employees understand why this is happening and how it can be helpful. This stage demands communication so that employees can have full knowledge and can have their questions answered. Employers must make it a point to avoid overwhelming the employees with a lot of information in one go and give it slowly and gradually.

At stage 2 – When finally the gravity of the situation settles in, and reality becomes clear, employees or workers may begin to feel fear from what lies ahead, and this may also turn into anger and resentment. They have been in a comfort zone for so long and knowing that they need to learn, change and adapt may make them angry. This stage has to be managed very sensibly by managements and organizations because some employees tend to vent their anger a little too harshly. This could create chaos and to avoid it, careful planning must be done in advance. Clear communication and support should still be the focus for organizations at this level as well. Organizations must understand that this is just a natural reaction and with time, it shall pass away and make way for acceptance.

At stage 3 – When employees finally understand the change and realize how they must adapt to new situations and circumstances, they may try to find the best possible scenario for them to fit in and adapt to. They may try to bargain with the management so that not a lot is compromised. They may try to learn only what they think is important but as an employer or part of management, your role should be to ensure that everyone gets the best of training so that the change incorporated can run successfully. The training stage may take time and for employees, figuring out their best options for a comfortable tenure ahead will be the focus. A company cannot rush employees to learn quickly or adapt to changes fast. It cannot expect 100% productivity during this phase.

At Stage 4 – Learning phase may not always be a very happy and comfortable zone for most employees of a workplace. This phase could result in low energies at the workplace due to low morale and excitement. It is important for the management to understand that this phase is not easy for the workforce as well. Hence, the more exciting the training can be made, the better would it be for the employees to move ahead and give their best. Employees may have realized by now that there is no way out of the situation, and this may prove difficult for some of them to handle.

At Stage 5 – This is the stage that managers or workplaces wait for after introducing a new change into an enterprise. People finally begin to embrace the change, accept the situation and start building new hopes and aspirations. They realize and understand the importance of the change and resign towards it. While some may resign because of lack of any other option, others may resign to the reality in a positive way. The managers of the workplace will finally begin to see the benefits of the hard work put in by them so far. The team is showing improvements now, and the overall productivity begins to improve. The road may have been rocky, but it is now time to celebrate, move towards a brighter future and expect more profits around the corner.

2) Dead Car Battery example

One of the best examples of the Kubler-Ross Change Curve is the Dead Car Battery example. The following given example clearly demonstrates the transition process from one stage to another.

It’s a chilly winter morning, and it is dark outdoors. There is a thin layer of frost on the ground but you are late for work and hence have to rush out to the car parked outside. As you place the key in the ignition and turn the car on, you realize that the battery is dead. What follows is a clear demonstration of the Kubler-Ross transition stages:

  1. Shock and denial – Your first reaction is of absolute shock and denial. You cannot believe this happening to you when you are already running late, and you thus try to start the car again and again.
  2. Anger – Now that you realize the car cannot be started, you begin to feel angry and very mad at the situation.
  3. Bargaining – Even on knowing it won’t help, you start asking the car to start, just for once. You promise it in your mind that you will keep it maintained and get the battery charged as soon as possible.
  4. Depression – All the negative thoughts start rushing to your mind. You begin to feel depressed, sad and hopeless. You fear your job will be taken away and see now way out of the situation.
  5. Acceptance – Now you figure out what you should do next. You can a cab and decide to deal with the situation later on.


Besides the above given 5 stages of grief or the Kubler-Ross Method, there are some other variations of change management models available too. They are given as follows:

The ADKAR Model

This Model was created for individual change management by Prosci. This variation or model demonstrates the 5 ingredients needed for change to be possible and successfully implemented. These 5 ingredients are given as follows:

  • Awareness – Awareness is a very important building block that helps one understand why change is important and needed.
  • Desire – The desire to be a part of change and support it is another vital ingredient.
  • Knowledge – The desire is incomplete without knowing how change can be brought about.
  • Ability – Even on having the desire to change and the knowledge to bring about this change, things can go in vain if the individual does not have the ability to grow with it.
  • Reinforcement – This building block is important to sustain the change.

John Kotter 8-step strategy for change management

John Kotter also suggested a strategy for change management and this strategy consists of an 8-step process or procedure to deal with change:

  1. Create: The first step is to establish a feeling of urgency or hurriedness towards change.
  2. Build: The second step is to formulate a guiding coalition.
  3. Form: Now, the next step towards change involves developing a strategy to bring about change. This requires having a plan and a vision.
  4. Enlist: One must now communicate or put forth the vision or strategy for change.
  5. Enable: One must now empower the employees for taking action to incorporate the changes.
  6. Generate: Formulating and generating short-term goals and achieving them is the next step.
  7. Sustain: Capitalization of wins or gains in order to produce bigger results is the 7th step.
  8. Institute: Incorporating new and better changes in the workplace culture is the last step.


Credit: cleverism.com

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