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SupaThink: Uncertainty

2022 will be a year filled with uncertainties. The weekly publication The Economist highlights that an "era of predictable unpredictability" will not go away any time soon. For many, this uncertainty can evoke negative emotions, stoke fears, and create an overall sense of discomfort. We may be afraid of the unknown and unsure that we are protected or prepared. This can be paralyzing. We may even tend to get more cautious, more defensive and turn inward. As leaders we have a responsibility to combat these emotions and help our teams find a positive path forward. Here are a couple of recommendations:

  • Combat the myths. The more uncertain, difficult, or challenging we perceive our situation to be, the more we may, nostalgically, think that things in the past were better, more certain, and predictable. Truthfully however, uncertainty is constantly with us, change is continuous, and the past was just different. Great leaders encourage a dialogue and conversation about uncertainty; maybe even dispel certain myths and encourage their teams to voice their concerns and fears. This can create a strong level of connection, build trust and a foundation to think about uncertainties in a more constructive manner.

  • Promote openness. One of the most important things a leader can do is promote a culture of openness. Johann Norberg in his insightful book "Open. The Story of Human Progress" describes that "the more open we are to other perspectives and ideas, the greater our chance of finding a new set of skills or a new solution that improves our lives." A culture that is more open, will be more flexible, better equipped to deal with change and more inclusive and willing to accept different points of views. Most importantly, openness can promote growth, learning and development.

  • Create confidence. While being more open is critical, leaders should also create an "I-belief-in-you" culture that establishes a sense of comfort across the team that "they got this". There is no blame or punishment for mistakes or failure. There is encouragement and a "can-do attitude" that allows teams to excel, take on difficult tasks with confidence and be more sure-footed. By focusing on confidence, leaders can unleash highly productive and innovative teams, tackling uncertainty and solving the most difficult issues.

  • Connect to purpose. Especially in times of uncertainty it is easy to lose sight of the bigger goal, the north star, or the path forward. Therefore, we always need to remind ourselves about our bigger purpose and what is in our control to connect to it. I have observed several great leaders do this tremendously well. One common feature across them was their ability to remove ambiguity from uncertainty. They did not get side-tracked by uncontrollable events and were never the victim of external circumstances. They managed their own destiny by establishing clear and concise goals, allowing them to prevail in challenging or certain times.

  • Foster a resiliency mindset. Lastly, I think is important to establish an "expect the unexpected mindset". Nothing should be viewed through a business-as-usual lens. Strong organizations can create their own re-enforcing resiliency cycle by training their teams to continuously prepare, assess, learn, and prepare again. The best teams have an incredible focus on this. Growing up in the Austrian Alps, I have seen how the Mountain Rescue teams prepare for the unexpected. They routinely insert new scenarios into their training exercises to promote a more resilient and prepared mindset to deal with the unexpected.

The negative implications and sentiments around uncertainty are real, but so are also the positives. In a world where we clearly "predictably" operate during continuous times of unpredictability, a constructive dialogue, openness, confidence, purpose, and resiliency can make all the difference to prepare us better for uncertainties. In the words of Louis Pasteur: "Chance favors the prepared mind."


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