“Maturity of mind is the capacity to endure uncertainty”.John Finley, English historian and mathematician
This capacity to not get derailed or immobilized by the uncertainties and rapid, often chaotic changes we all face in our personal and professional lives, is a personal asset that is remarkable and rare amongst individuals.
In a study conducted by The Centre for Creative Leadership, inability to handle change emerged as one of the primary causes for executive derailment (followed by inability to work well in a team and a deficit in interpersonal skills). Time and time again, I have seen highly competent and successful leaders, individuals with high IQ and strong knowledge in their area of expertise, get on the wrong path because they stubbornly refused to adapt to the changing demands of the moment.
And it is often during times of uncertainty and chaotic change that our behavior speaks louder about who we really are as a person. Having been personally involved in numerous management changes, mergers and acquisitions, rapid growth periods, and drastic “right sizing” and downsizing, I have seen two types of individuals who surface in these unsettling and uncertain conditions: those who manifest their shadow, their dark side, and those who help themselves and others around them to ride out the storm. The latter inevitably shine brighter and emerge as leaders, rising above the crowd.
As all project managers know, the uncertainty of major ventures or projects which go awry can have nefarious consequences that filter down to the rest of the organization, affecting everyone, from the mail clerk to the CEO – a careless acquisition, not paying attention to the rampant overhead of certain pet projects and not foreseeing changing trends, to name just a few. Developing competence in managing uncertainties is crucial. A short but insightful article published by MIT Sloan Management Review, entitled Managing Project Uncertainty: From Variation to Chaos, outlines four major types of uncertainties:
The authors state that companies that spend some time at the outset of a project to create an “uncertainty profile”, that is, ascertain what kind of uncertainty is likely to dominate their project, will be better able to quickly adapt to it and choose the right management strategy. The article reveals numerous tools and techniques for managing each type of uncertainty such as using decision-tree techniques and sharing risk lists with all stakeholders.
Among the many wisdom nuggets in this article, what struck me is the notion that, as the leader, you need to “filter out the filterers”, that is you need to find those individuals in the organization who are plugged tightly in to the future and understand well the implications for your company’s business model – and allow these people to give voice to their opinions, without being censored by the watchdogs of the status quo who isolate you from potential distasteful news. As the author aptly puts it: “You should be wary of anyone who has a vested interest in your continued ignorance…”
Corporate uncertainty is not going away. Successful individuals within those companies are those that are agile and can adapt. So what are some strategies that you can use to make yourself change-proof and to cope with organizational uncertainty and the personal upheaval that it causes? Here are some suggestions for leaders and constituents:
“What every man needs, regardless of his job or the kind of work he is doing, is a vision of what his place is and may be. He needs an objective and a purpose. He needs a feeling and a belief that he has some worthwhile thing to do. What this is no one can tell him. It must be his own creation.” (Joseph Morrell Dodge, U.S. banker, 1890-1964.)
Joy and hope are an inside job. Abandon the tendency to think that what is now will continue into the future. Focus on what you want for your future, rather than on what you don’t want. Something remarkable happens when we successfully make that shift.
Copyright © 2009-2020 by Bruna Martinuzzi. All Rights Reserved.
This article is an excerpt from Bruna Martinuzzi’s book: “The Leader as a Mensch: Become the Kind of Person Others Want to Follow.” Bruna is an educator, author and speaker specializing in emotional intelligence, leadership, Myers-Briggs and presentation skills training. Visit her website at www.clarionenterprises.com.