LEADERS EMBRACE UNCERTAINTY 2024-05-13T01:28:38-04:00


Happy Mothers Day to all you mothers across the United States and Canada who receive this weekly newsletter. Thank you for all you do and have done for your families, for your friends, and for your community. I hope you enjoy a wonderful day.

This week I was coaching an executive who was complaining that she did not have all the answers she wanted in addressing a challenging situation at work. She bemoaned the fact that the answers were unclear and that the direction forward was really tricky.

I asked her why it was so important for her to know the answers right now. She explained that figuring out the necessary answers now would allow her and her team to move forward more quickly and efficiently, and, moreover, it would impress her own manager.

I asked her how she would know when she and her team had arrived at the “right answer.” She opined that there would be consensus, that her manager would be supportive, and that it would be based upon available data.

We explored the definition of the “right answer.” I wondered if it was possible to reach consensus, obtain managerial support and think that the data was supportive, but arrive at an answer that proved to be a mistake or ineffective. She smiled ruefully and admitted that indeed that had occurred for her in the past, at her current job and in prior jobs.

We examined the advantages of not striving for the absolute right answer and instead learning to be OK with not knowing. I thought about a webinar I had viewed several months ago featuring one of the world’s leading coaches, Marcia Reynolds. During that webinar, Reynolds discussed the value of helping leaders learning to be OK with “not knowing.”

It reminded me of this common leadership knowledge journey:

-We don’t know what we don’t know

-We know what we don’t know

-We know what we know

-We don’t know what we know

This is a knowledge journey all leaders follow as they mature into responsible positions managing and leading individuals and teams. Young leaders often are not able or willing to admit that they don’t know what they don’t know. They think that admitting what they don’t know will make them look weak in the eyes of their teammates or their manager.

My experience has been just the opposite. When we acknowledge that we don’t know what we don’t know and later that we know what we don’t know, we show vulnerability and humility to our teammates. We give them permission to complement us with their own knowledge and ideas. This reinforces the concept of teamwork, where everyone is invited to help answer questions or contribute knowledge.

As leaders, when we embrace uncertainty, we are role modeling for our colleagues that it is acceptable and even preferable to realize that there are not always “right answers,” but that it is smart to live in the uncertainty of the future.

When we teach our teammates to accept, acknowledge and grow OK with uncertainty, we are actually doing them a service. We are showing them that uncertainty is an integral part of the leadership journey and that learning to live with and embrace that uncertainty is a step up on their leadership ladders.
Think about your own leadership journey to this point. Was there ever a stage when you craved certainty, when you wanted to possess all the “right answers?” Did uncertainty make you feel uneasy? Did it propel you into your “discomfort zone?” As I have written here before, part of leadership maturation is learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Where are you today with the feeling of uncertainty?

-Do you dread it?

-Do you ignore it?

-Do you welcome it as part of your learning process?

I encourage you to examine your relationship with uncertainty. Reflect on it. Journal about it. Talk to others about it. Hopefully, over time, you will grow t– as Marcia Reynolds advises – to embrace it.

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