Leaders Stand in the Gap of Uncertainty to Help Others Across

Far too many of us can also relate to working for managers who wielded their title and position authority as their only levers for leading. These managers caused me to question the likelihood of my contributing anything of value to the corporate mission. To hear their names, even years later, leaves me feeling drained and conjures emotions of lacking. My concerns were reinforced every time they tried to make me do something, because…well…they were in charge and the conversation was supposed to end there.

When it was my turn to lead, I had questions of my own: What type of leader would I be? Would I have the “it that seemed to sift the effective from the not so effective leaders of my past? Could I learn to lead? Or, is it true that leaders are not made but born and shipped in from a distant planet?

Many people aspire to leadership positions because of the big bonuses, nice clothes and public accolades. I was no different. But a lot of work and responsibility precede the shiny watches and flattering headlines. By evaluating my personal journey and working closely with hundreds of executives, I have seen successful leaders embrace three primary responsibilities. Many receive no fanfare; providing confidence often without having full certainty themselves.

  1. Effective leaders paint a clear pictures of success. Every organization regardless of size or mission needs a vision of what winning looks like. Without clarity, followers meander aimlessly executing well-intentioned tasks not knowing whether they are truly helping the organization be successful. Effective leaders create a tangible vision that coveys how everyone contributes to achieving the mission.
  1. Productive leaders remove barriers. Barriers can be physical (a person, situation or thing blocking success), financial (insufficient funding of key projects or a misallocation of scarce resources) or informational (antiquated training, outdated ideas or flawed analysis inhibiting success). Productive leaders spend their time minimizing or totally removing barriers.
  1. True leaders inspire action. Let’s face it, nothing happens until something happens. While there are examples of short-term results coming from dictates and demands, enduring results come from sustained employee or follower engagement. The more effective leaders tap into organizational beliefs and desires for success. True leaders inspire others to want to take action.

I am convinced that every success and failure begins and ends with leadership. Harry Truman was onto something when he proclaimed, The Buck Stops Here! Widespread uncertainty marks a failure of leadership. It is always tempting for leaders to busy themselves with management activities (measure this, track that; evaluate performance versus budgets). Management activities are quite useful, but should never be confused for leadership – and they often are.

Leaders are more effective when they dedicate themselves to the three responsibilities that only they can fulfill. Their organizations will thrive and appreciate their willingness to stand in the gap of uncertainty to help others across.

Galen’s new book Leadership Residue: A Leadership Fable and Leadership Residue: Writings on the Wall focus on creating inspiration that will remain even after the leader is gone is available on Amazon.

7 Ways to Help Your Team Deal with Ambiguity

Dealing with ambiguity is a competency quickly pushing its way up on the list of most wanted executive competencies, while simultaneously working its way down as a vital survival skill down the organization chart. Acting with incomplete information, adapting to change, working without complete direction, imagining what’s possible in an uncertain future–these are skills no longer reserved for the executive floor. Every manager and team member will be more effective with greater skill in this arena.

It’s not easy. But, tackling the topic head on will save a lot of wasted time and emotional energy for you and your team, and you’ll prepare your team members for larger roles in the process.

7 Ways to Help Your Team Deal With Ambiguity

“Accepting that the world is full of uncertainty and ambiguity does not and should not stop people from being pretty sure about a lot of things.” – Julian Baggini

1. Understand your Own Tolerance and Reactions

Start with you. If times of uncertainty don’t lead to your shining moments of leadership brilliance, acknowledge that. Find a trusted advisor (it could even be a team member) who finds change and ambiguity exhilarating to help you with your plan. Do your freaking-out in private. In uncertain times, nothing will calm and inspire your team more than your “game on” attitude.

2. Be Crystal Clear on What is Clear

It’s easy to feel like everything is uncertain in times of uncertainty. That’s never true. Be crystal clear on what you do know, what’s not changing, and what your team can count on.

3. Know What You Collectively Know and What You Don’t

Chances are that you and your team, when you put your heads together, know more than you think. Taking time to do this exercise as a team matters. Resist the urge to focus only on what everyone already knows. Write that down, but then add to the list of what each person knows or suspects based on their area of expertise. Then write down what you don’t know, and brainstorm ways to gather more information in that arena.

4. Don’t Waffle

When you make decisions, stop second-guessing them out loud. If you need to change course, do it boldly with strong communication and explanation. Otherwise, keep your boat sailing swiftly in the announced direction.

5. Encourage Risk Taking

Even if you’ve reacted poorly to mistakes before, admit that, and promise support in taking calculated risks. Put in place whatever parameters and checkpoints you need to feel comfortable in your world, but allow space for creativity and brilliant thinking. You need every single brain cell operating on full cylinder at times like these, not censored with fear of making mistakes.

6. Envision Alternative Scenarios

When the future is uncertain, it’s easy to think that “anything could happen.” That’s seldom true. More often the most probable scenarios can be boiled down to two or three. Brainstorm those possibilities and develop contingency plans. This exercise goes a long way in calming minds and spirits, while generating creative possibilities that could actually work across scenarios.

7. Engage Other People and Perspectives

The more people you engage in the solution, the less frightening the problem becomes. Enlist unusual suspects to weigh-in.  Engage some cross-functional collaboration. Benchmark externally. Ask your children (hey, you never know).

Most importantly keep your cool and focus on the possible.