Stock market investors and most organizational leaders genuinely dislike uncertainty. I understand why it plays havoc with investor psychology. Yet managing the unexpected is the real job of today’s leaders.
Much of the theory of management implies we can plan, organize, lead, and control our way to reducing uncertainty. For some tasks, that is indeed possible. For most of the big ones, however, including predicting the outcome of our strategies or even forecasting our revenues over long planning horizons in changing markets, we are flailing our way through uncertainty making foolish, overly optimistic predictions and then hoping the outcomes match the forecasts.
Markets, customers, and competitors don’t bend to fit our happy scripts—regardless of how many assumptions we make or how beautiful our slide decks are.
From the Yiddish saying: “Man plans and God Laughs.”
Or, the more contemporary: “Hope is not a strategy.”
Or, “Stuff happens.”
The managers and leaders I appreciate today are the ones who when faced with the unexpected feel that twinge of excitement and rush of adrenaline knowing that “now” is an opportunity to test themselves and their teams.
The daily pursuit of consistent, high performance is table-stakes. You don’t get to stay in the game as a manager unless you can deliver consistency and quality where it’s practical. However, the real game of leading and managing starts when the fog rolls in and choices must be made—typically with less than perfect information.
Teach Resilience and Adaptability
Effective leaders focus on building both resilience and adaptability into their cultures. It’s something made possible through clear values, the right coaching, and constant reinforcement. You have to live, model, reinforce, and reward displays of resilience and adaptability. Do this right with the right people, and you’ll be prepared to seize the opportunities inherent in uncertainty.
Resilience is that individual and team courage not to give up coupled with the confidence to know they will find a way forward that works.
Adaptability is effectively the individual and group self-confidence needed to flail and fail and then learn and adjust on the run.
You own this. You own creating this.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
Your best career opportunities and the events that define you as a leader and manager all occur at the moment of uncertainty. Your ability to seize this moment and come out the other end alive and ultimately successful is what defines you. Instead of pursuing predictability and stability, learn to love and then seize uncertainty.