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What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do (Article)

It’s five o’clock on Friday afternoon and I have decided to fire my lead developer on a mission critical project. I plan to replace him with a contractor that has been working on the same project for several months. As I complete the developer’s exit interview, I find out the contractor committed a fire-able offense that same afternoon and I let him go too.

This is just one of many times in my career that I felt like I didn’t know what to do.

When you find yourself in a similar situation, here are some ways to recover:

Admit It

As a leader, you feel like you should always have the answer.

There is great power in admitting to your team that you just aren’t sure what to do next. This transparency builds your relationship and gives others permission to admit when they are stuck without fear of repercussion.

Step Away

Go for a walk, get a quick workout in, or go for a swim. Regardless of the activity you choose, stepping away from the task may the best thing to do.

Physical activity gets the blood flowing, makes you breathe deeper and clears your head. Thinking about your surroundings, how the sun feels on your skin, or the number of miles you’ve completed provides a sense of accomplishment and puts your issue in perspective. The oxygen, endorphins and short break helps you think about a problem differently and come up with new ideas.


Read a book, a blog, or an article. Just read. Reading stimulates the brain and clears your mind. Reading about someone else’s experience, opinion and outlook offers a different way to look at things and solve a problem.

I read several books while away on vacation and they always impact my approach to my business. I come up with new creative ideas to problems I was wrestling with before I left. If reading isn’t your cup of tea, listening to a podcast can offer just as much insight.


In our fast-paced world it’s easy to feel like everything needs to be done NOW.

The decision to wait may be the best. Most of the time, problems have a way of working themselves out and waiting may bring additional information allowing you to make a better decision. I have found this is especially true for calendar conflicts and project deadlines.

Call a Friend

Some of the best advice I’ve received throughout my career has come from my friends. Friends are great sounding boards and help you clear your head, remind you of how you handled a previous similar situation, or offer a whole new perspective to the situation. Friends offer words of encouragement and you know they will be there long after the current situation has passed.

Ask Your Board of Advisors

Find an empty room and imagine 4 chairs around a table, each filled with a different personal advisor.

Who would your advisors be? What would they say or recommend you do? Would your advisors be in support of your decision or would they try to talk you out of what you are about to do? Thinking about how a trusted advisor would advise you to handle the situation can move you forward when you are stuck.

Acknowledge that not knowing what to do is normal. With the right approach, these times of uncertainty can lead to great strides forward.