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 The Lift Effect takes executives on a ride of a lifetime, using a network of people, experiences and processes to lift leadership performance. 

- Clare Goodman

The Lift Effect Blog

Uncertainty is not the enemy.

QuestionsWhy is uncertainty seen as the enemy? The number of leaders who seek control and avoid uncertainty, fascinates me. I enjoy working with many leaders in diverse organisations all with very different personalities and approaches to leadership but it is the leaders who embrace ambiguity and uncertainty who leap out to me as effective leaders.

There seems to be an organisational conspiracy to perpetuate this need for control, “If we plan, follow process and mitigate risk, then we will be ok”. Although there is nothing wrong with planning, in fact, it is encouraged but expecting any plan to work perfectly is laughable.

Helmuth von Moltke, a German Military Strategist coined the phrase ” No battle plan survives the contact with the enemy”. So we have to be agile and be able to adapt and change our approach.

For over sixty years researchers have been interested in what makes some people more able to tolerate uncertainty than others. A number of the earlier psychological researchers such as Frankl-Brunswik and Budner put it down to differences in personality.  More recently researchers have been looking at the role that dopamine receptors play in our ability to seek uncertainty and novelty or seek to maintain the status quo. People with lower numbers of dopamine receptors seek out more novelty and uncertainty whereas those with higher numbers of dopamine receptors find it difficult to tolerate change or uncertainty. There is obviously more work to do to really understand the neuroscience behind uncertainty however researchers and practitioners are beginning to identify the links between effective leadership and being able to operate in uncertainty and it’s ‘big sister’ ambiguity.

A paper by Randall White and Sandra Shullman ‘Build Leadership’s Tolerance for Ambiguity’ explains;

” Dealing with ambiguity is seldom taught, but higher performing leaders tend to understand that uncertainty can be the gateway to opportunity”.

They have identified a number of observable traits that are present in leaders able to thrive in uncertainty;

  • Mystery as a motivating factor – people who seek out situations where they don’t know the answer
  • Undaunted by risk – being able to make decisions with incomplete information
  • Sensitive to faint signals - being able to scan for patterns and context set for their teams
  • Tenacity - leaders who do not shy away from failure, they stay the course.
  • Creating excitement – enthusing others around them
  • Flexibility – able to change direction and their minds
  • Simplifying - taking the complex and communicating it simply
  • Focus – knowing what to focus on at the right time.

David Wilkinson, author of the Ambiguity Advantage which is based on researching leaders in the UK he states;

” It should be clear by now that moments of the most intense fear , the moments when there appear to be huge threats all around, when ambiguity is at its highest, when we know little  and understand less, these are moments of most potential for moving into the new world and taking advantage”.

Indeed uncertainty isn’t the enemy, it may feel uncomfortable and even stressful but through uncertainty can come many possibilities for change, growth and development.

 

Clare is currently researching the impact of Uncertainty and Ambiguity on Leadership Effectiveness for her Doctoral Thesis.

 

 

 

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Curiosity – a leaders tool to manage uncertainty

Could the power of curiosity help leaders to emotionally manage uncertainty and ambiguity in the workplace? There is no doubt that the world is becoming more uncertain – leaders are called upon to have a higher degree of adaptability to handle the ever changing business landscape.

Curious? is  new book by Todd Kashdan that explores the power and benefits of cultivating a curious mind. As children, our world is full of unknowns and we continually pester the adults in our world to answer question after question ‘ why is the sky blue? where does milk come from?’  at that age it is an open inquiry, for many without fear. We all have a capacity for curiosity, however as we experience life we start to change how we use curiosity. Some adults continue to be open to new experiences and face life with inquiry whilst others become more fearful of new experiences, uncertainty and life.

Working with leaders in a diverse range of industries across Australia it seems clear that curiosity is often replaced with control and knowing. This can lead to excellent problem solving based on past experience but undermines innovative thinking, it also can lead to increase in stress levels as leaders try to contain and control the variables in the workplace rather than engage curiosity and innovation.

Curiosity in Action

I spend my work life with leaders in highly intense, experiential leadership development programs. In these programs we use simulations and work based scenarios to observe and coach the participants through challenging, uncertain and pressurised situations. These simulations are designed to trigger a threat response, what we are looking for is how well a leader can emotionally regulate so they can adapt, deal with the uncertainty and work through the simulation effectively. I often coach these execs to use curiosity of a situation or a challenging person to regulate. Curiosity is an emotion that is based on being open and inquiring, this is often the exact opposite of how our leaders behave in these intense programs. With practice,  leaders start to develop curiosity in those situations and are more able to read others emotions, respond rather than react and see another’s perspective. It’s a powerful tool.

Curiosity is underused – and certainly under-recognised by leaders and those who support the development of leaders.

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How wonderful…

I have an invitation to all you pessimists out there, spend a day by starting your sentences with “How wonderful…” and notice how you feel.  This was advice given to me recently, as a genetic ‘glass half empty’ girl I was noticing what was wrong with the world but not paying attention to what is working. (more…)

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Happiness – a personal quest or an organizational strategy?

As an addict of the ‘self help’ section in any bookshop even I was astounded to come across a copy of the ‘Happiness for Dummies’ book.  It just goes to show that in this era of consumerism that perhaps there is a growing need to find happiness in something other than a Gucci bag, new BMW or a 10 berth ‘Gin Palace’. Not there is anything wrong with gaining short term pleasure through these things, it is when we think that when we buy a Calvin Klein perfume that we are buying lasting happiness. (more…)

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