Ambiguity Inc.: Leadership that cuts to the left.

I originally posted this at TalentCulture a few months ago, but now more than ever it hits the mark.

For me that is. Maybe you too?

You’re a leader.

And you’re standing warily in front of an amusement park entrance, your spouse and two children in tow.

Or you could be at work, standing there with your direct reports, collaborative teams, departments, divisions or entire executive management team in tow.

Or you could be standing there with your entire company in tow.

What to do? The park is deceiving because you think it’s something you know well, something that’s unchanging, stable. You’ve been coming here since you were a child. But the fact is, the park changes every year: new rides are launched, old ones dismantled, shows come and go, food courts evolve, the park expands, the parking area moves, etc.

When most people go to the park, they cut to the right, the dominant direction of travel. They’ll make their way around the park with everyone else, bumping elbows, getting cut off by rogue children and teenagers, and sweating it out in the lines with screaming children and change-resistant spouses. Or screaming employees and change-resistant colleagues.

Regardless, it all starts with yourself, the personal leadership of You, Inc. and your emotional intelligence, and your ability to manage and thrive in ambiguity.

That’s the world we live in today – one of constant change and uncertainty. Of course the amusement park is only a metaphor, albeit a useful one: you either jump in line to ride the crazy rides or you don’t. Have you ever cut to the left?

In an issue of Chief Learning Officer a few months ago there was an article titled Ambiguity Leadership: It’s OK to Be Uncertain, which I highly recommend. The article outlines Three Tenets of Mastering the Unknown.

Mastering uncertainty is learned over time, and the skills to do it should be included in the curriculum of leadership development initiatives. Here are three simple coaching suggestions.

  1. Learn to make a decision with incomplete information. Take a decision you would normally agonize over and, instead, make this decision based only on what you know now. Write it down and seal it in an envelope. Then, go through the normal cycle time of decision-making. After the normal decision-making process is complete, get out the sealed decision and compare and contrast. Would you have made the same decision? Could you have made the decision yourself at the earlier stage and saved energy, time and money?
  2. Read up. Train your mind to be fluid and attuned to faint signals of impending change. Uncertainty is the ocean on which we sail. Studying up is a way of understanding that ocean and coming to terms with the inevitability of ambiguity.
  3. Examine five ideas or trends that you know nothing about, but that will affect the business in three to five years. Consider how they may or may not affect your products, services and jobs. Discuss how you can prepare for them.

I still get excited when I go to an amusement park. Do you? Prior to going I read up on the latest rides and attractions, and I’m as giddy as a schoolboy, ready to run ragged into the unknown and help guide family and firm along the way.

Learn to manage uncertainty; be giddy and cut to the left.


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