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A Green Beret shares how to deal with uncertainty as a leader

Green Beret Jason Van Camp trained soldiers for combat, so he knows how to prepare a team for unpredictable circumstances.

A Green Beret shares how to deal with uncertainty as a leader
[Photo: U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua J. Garcia /Released]

Right now, we’re all dealing with uncertainty. As the pandemic continues into its fifth month, it’s hard to know what tomorrow will bring. To better handle the psychological stressors we’re facing, we have to get comfortable with the uncomfortable, says Jason Van Camp, author of Deliberate Discomfort: How U.S. Special Operations Forces Overcome Fear and Dare to Win by Getting Comfortable Being Uncomfortable.

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As a former Green Beret commander, Van Camp trained soldiers to endure various scenarios under high-pressure situations. “The ultimate team is the military, and as a commander I had to lead forces into combat, which is filled with uncertainty,” he says. “What we taught them is that you have to pivot or you’re going to die.”

And dealing with uncertainty couldn’t be more relevant than it is right now with COVID-19, adds Van Camp. Leaders need to take steps to help their teams adjust.

Get to Know Each Member

The first step for leaders is to show the team that they care, which requires getting to know each individual. “Have intimate conversations, ask tough questions, find out their dreams and values, and their vision for the future,” says Van Camp, who trains corporate leaders on the mindset he learned during his time in the Army through his Mission Six Zero leadership consulting firm. “Employees need to know you care and that you want them to succeed. In the military, you hear the term, ‘We fight for the man to our left and to our right.’ That’s true, but why do we fight for that person? Because we know them.”

Too often in the corporate world, leaders say they’re a team, but their actions don’t always back that up. “If you don’t really know the person, why would you fight for them?” asks Van Camp. “That’s why you see a lot of employee retention issues and huge turnover rates. I tell leaders that now more than ever it’s important to have conversations to get to know the people on your team.”

Take Advantage of Remote Working Arrangements

It can seem like a more significant challenge to get to know your team if they’re working from home, but Van Camp says that’s not necessarily the case.

“It’s harder than ever, but it’s also easier than ever because we don’t have to coordinate a time to go get lunch, drive into a location, spend time away from your family or workplace,” he says. “It’s as simple as scheduling a 30-minute Zoom call or Google Hangout. You can build relationships online easily these days.”

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Make It Safe to Share Concerns

Getting comfortable with the uncomfortable requires sharing your concerns. Leaders can help their teams open up by sharing their concerns first, says Van Camp.

“You have to be vulnerable and authentic and expose your heart,” he says. “If you do that first, it makes it safe for others to do the same. The vast majority of people can detect when you’re full of it and not being real, authentic, or truthful. That destroys the relationship, the culture, and your credibility as a leader.”

Then Listen

Once you make it comfortable for people to open up, resist the urge to jump in and help. Instead, show your people you care by listening. “When I was earning my Green Beret, my leader said, ‘Your success here at this unit is going to be determined by your ability to listen,'” says Van Camp. “Instead of solving problems or telling them your thoughts, sit back and just listen. When you do, don’t let your mind wander. Pay attention, and you can feel a relationship building.”

Gauge the Person’s Tolerance for Transparency

While you don’t want to hide information, you also don’t want to incite fear. Right now, leaders may not have all the answers or know what’s going to happen. But as soon as you catch a drift of something concerning, it may not be the best time to tell your team. Instead, wait until you get more information or more explicit guidance, says Van Camp.

“When a lot of things are unknown, transparency about what you do know is key. But how much you share depends on the individual,” he says. “Some people have a greater capacity or a higher bar for fear. They want to hear the truth. They don’t want it wrapped in a bow.”

But some people don’t do well with that, and they may start panicking or jumping to conclusions, which could be detrimental to the team.

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“In the special forces, we operate in gray, nebulous, uncomfortable spaces where things aren’t black and white,” he says. “You have to understand who your people are and how they respond to the two main motivating factors: love and fear.”

Growth Is Uncomfortable

Becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable can be learned, says Van Camp. “I ask people, ‘What are you afraid of?'” he says. “What it comes down to is being afraid of the unknown—what they don’t see or understand. And I tell them, once you know something, you’re no longer afraid of it. It’s not the obstacle that you fear; it’s the unknown result of overcoming that obstacle. So you have to have the courage to willingly choose to confront that unknown, that fear, whatever it is, and head [it] off.”

Growth is not about living an easy life, Van Camp continues. “A life lived correctly should be lived in difficulty,” he says. “That’s how strong people are made. Unfortunately, society is teaching us the wrong thing right now. Instead of saying, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ You should be saying, ‘If it ain’t broke, break it and make it better.’ We have to choose hard or they’re going to choose us.”

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