Leading Through Seasons of Uncertainty

Written by Matthew Ludden / June 18, 2024 / 7 Minute Read
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Read how resilience, adaptability, and teamwork are essential for leadership during uncertain times, as experienced firsthand by the author.


Change is inevitable.

Typically, I start an article by researching a clear idea like change and focusing on a specific question.

At Valve+Meter, I have the privilege of working with a diverse group of business leaders on research, strategy, and measuring marketing results. Alongside highly talented marketing professionals, I help companies transform and grow. 

What are the attributes of leaders in growing businesses?

Studying the qualities that distinguish these leaders drives our team at Valve+Meter.  In Here We Grow, Marcia Barnes writes, “The only way to effectively lead is to have buy-in from your team-freely given permission to lead.”

In times of abundance and seasons of uncertainty, we are strengthened by the people around us.

This is not an article about how culture, humility, and strategy will transform your business.

This is a story about loss, uncertainty, and leadership in the face of adversity.

A Season Of Change

For any goal to be accomplished by a team, someone must lead. Marcia often says that buy-in from your team is fundamental to successful leadership. 

Great leaders are not necessarily the strongest, most vocal, or even the smartest members of a team. When individuals within a group make a deliberate choice, it is an act of trust. 

In The Five Dysfunctions Of A Team, Patrick Lencioni aptly notes, “Remember, teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.” 

Trust within a team is built when leaders demonstrate vulnerability and authenticity. 

This openness fosters a collaborative environment where team members feel safe sharing ideas and taking risks. My article will focus on this.

I pulled a few books on leadership off the shelf, ran Google searches, organized my references, and created an outline. The final step in my writing process is lacing up my shoes and organizing my final thoughts on a run. 

A couple of miles into my run, the outline began to change, and a new question took shape in my mind. 

I promise this isn’t another thought piece about how distance runners make better leaders.

Running has always been a constant, whether sprinting on a track or competing in marathons. It’s during those miles that I’ve made some of my most important life choices and had my most creative breakthroughs. 

So naturally, I welcomed-and almost expected-this new question:

How has leadership transformed my perspective on uncertainty and strength?

leading thorugh adversity

Pain Is Inevitable

My stride broke, and even before the pain shot like lightning through my hip, I knew.

Falling onto the trail, I thought, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” 

These words from Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running had pulled me out of bed for frigid January runs; driven me to add another loop under blistering August suns; and pushed me across countless miles. 

Even when running is painful, it serves as my sanctuary.

Laying on the trail that day, I considered the inevitable loss of running and the grueling process of scans, surgery, and physical therapy. I had been injured before, but I could not have predicted the next few months.

How do you confront adversity?

For most consistent runners, there is a correlation between happiness and physical exercise. There is speculation but not a quantifiable relationship between running and mental wellness.

In my experience, the loss of running coincides with anxiety and a general malaise. Through May, I maintained a daily schedule of weight training and yoga, but I knew my mood was changing. 

I thought losing running was going to be my challenge for the year.

Distance running is solitary and silent. 

So I went silently through the motions: wake up, work out, dive into my work, do physical therapy in the afternoon, do yoga at night, do more work before bed, and restlessly stare at the ceiling until the next day would start.

I knew from previous injuries that you must strengthen your whole body to truly recover.

In June, my grandmother passed away after a full and beautiful life. Where I would have previously grieved in the rhythm of running, I chose to focus on work.

By late July, team members and leaders were rallying around me. They encouraged me to concentrate on recovery.

I didn’t give them permission to lead.

Instead, in September, there was an abundance of work. I poured my attention into launching our new website and researching new strategies to help new clients thrive.

I wasn’t enjoying work. I wasn’t sleeping well. The losses were still compounding. In October, one of the most brilliant souls I have known passed after a long struggle with addiction. 

I thought I was heeding Haruki Murakami’s words, “To keep on going, you have to keep up the rhythm.”

That’s how you work through the pain of distance running.

But the rhythm was broken.

In my silence, I refused to be authentic and vulnerable. Instead of strengthening my body and mind, I had opted for suffering.

Suffering Is Optional

In late October, our company offered a breakout session with Jack Needham. I had read Stop Fixing, Start Leading when I started work with Valve+Meter, but I was reluctant to join my team in a full-day session. 

I had too much work to do. I couldn’t bother with developing myself.

When Jack asked for a participant for his coaching conversation, I waited for the usual volunteers. An awkward silence hung in the room, and eventually, to my surprise, I raised my hand. 

Using Jack’s model, we confronted my then-current reality: I was facing another surgery in a few days. We also defined the goal of returning to running in the future.

He asked, “Who or what do you need to include to succeed?”

My mind was so focused on the goal that I was unwilling to bridge that gap. Fixated on survival, I had lost sight of the keys to growth: resilience and adaptability.

I have been a leader throughout my life, but at that moment, I needed to give permission to lead.

Shifting my mindset empowered my coworkers, leadership within Valve+Meter, and my personal development.  

Adopting a Resilient Mindset

It’s been almost a year since the tear and the beginning of a tumultuous season in my life. My stride lacks any of the grace of my youth. 

I’m far from healed. The physical and psychic scars are fresh, but I’ve learned much about strength, resilience, and leadership. 

This article was meant to examine some of the best leaders we partner with at Valve+Meter.

So why am I writing about my personal adversity?

Nearing the end of my run, my mind wandered to the leaders and their teams I had met in the last year. It is remarkable to see how the best leaders find strength and growth through teamwork in businesses of all sizes, from small business owners to corporations. 

A year ago, I was prone to see only how curiosity, determination, and tenacity help these businesses thrive. I was reluctant to talk to anyone about my own challenges. Now, with a newfound perspective, I see that great leaders don’t go alone.

In times of uncertainty, resilience, adaptability, and asking for permission to lead are the hallmarks of great leaders.

This mindset not only withstands pressure but also thrives in it.

Rather than viewing change as a threat, leaders see it as an opportunity to innovate and grow. 

Innovation and Growth

Daily, I learn lessons at Valve+Meter.

I appreciate how much more I have to discover from peers, leaders, and, most often, the partners we serve.

When I learned how to give permission to lead, I became a better coworker and a smarter marketing professional. I now see that the most successful leaders embrace adaptation and wisdom and choose Valve+Meter to deliver our unique strengths.

One of the powers of the flywheel effect is distributing uneven power and smoothing operations. 

The team’s rhythm remains steady and strong.

Working on our most recent go-to-market strategies at Valve+Meter, my breakthrough moments aren’t just arriving on solitary runs but more frequently in team settings. 

Observing our partners and studying the data, we are driving innovations that only teams can accomplish when everyone buys in to resilience and adaptation.

Recommended Reads

Here is a reading list based on the books referenced in the article:

  • Here We Grow by Marcia Barnes: Explore insights on leadership and team buy-in from the founder of Valve+Meter, Marcia Barnes.
  • The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni: This book delves into the root causes of politics and dysfunction in the teams where you work, and the keys to overcoming them.
  • What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami: Murakami’s memoir reflects on the intersecting themes of running and writing, highlighting the physical and mental challenges of both pursuits.
  • Stop Fixing, Start Leading by Jack Needham: A guide for leaders on how to transition from problem-solving to empowering their teams to lead effectively.