Editor's Note: This is a new weekly column on leadership by Dr. Todd Thomas, who founded IMPACT Consulting and Development and previously led executive development at Daimler and organizational learning at Rockwell Avionics in addition to teaching as a professor at North Carolina State and Indiana University. This column will appear every Monday in the "Don't Miss" section of TheStreet.com homepage.

In times as volatile as they are frustrating, leaders at all levels are struggling with how to motivate their employees to greater productivity and commitment while avoiding the internal chaos and fear that is created through uncertainty.

Intel ( INTC) announced that they are freezing salaries from the CEO on down. At the same time, IBM ( IBM) announced layoffs with a proposed expansion in India. Meanwhile, micro-rallies turn into mini-rallies only for gains to disappear in a day. At the same time Wal-Mart ( WMT)announces losses, they also announce bonus-sharing with employees!

These are tough times to understand and even tougher times to lead. With the expectations that leaders not only set direction but also inspire performance, it is hard to keep the troops engaged in the battle without entirely overwhelming them with the severe situation. Panicked employees are not productive, employees inspired by challenge are.

It is not difficult to identify teams and companies that are suffering from a culture of panic:

There is a feeling of a lack of control

Whether or not this is the case, employees feel they have neither control nor influence in their future. This lack of control leads to a natural desire to do whatever we can to re-exert control which in some cases leads to losing very talented people.

There are rapidly changing priorities

Rather than accommodating the ambiguity that occurs in a change process, many leaders announce each new challenge as the priority. Teams and organizations in panic try to chase everything that comes along as possible solutions to the problem.

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