Good leadership strengths consist of being able to navigate and thrive in ambiguity. Leaders who learn to flex their leadership strengths in ambiguous situations are better equipped to navigate and thrive in ambiguity. They do not rely on the confines of their comfort zone, in fact, they prefer to not only work outside the box but to take the walls of the box down. Ambiguous situations increase as leaders progress in their organizations therefore, flexing leadership strengths to handle uncertainty becomes essential.
Just what are leadership strengths in ambiguity?
Ambiguity is fickle, it can cause stress, keep you up at night, and for these reasons, most people avoid ambiguity. Ambiguity is confusion, uncertainty, and creates misunderstandings. Here is a perfect example of an ambiguous goal: Grow Sales. What makes this goal ambiguous; there is no mention of specifics, no measures, no feasibility, no relevance, and no timeline. Ambiguity adds to and/or creates complexity in decision making. To be successful in business we need to be good at dealing with ambiguity (Shaw, C., 2013). Shaw gives us tips for dealing with ambiguity, some may be more challenging than others.
- Suppress your urge to control things: For some, going with the flow is easy; for others, this is like trying to fight the urge to breathe when under water. Start by trying to suppress the urge to do or not do one thing. For example, start small by suppressing the urge to control one thing at work.
- Understand that some of your decisions will be wrong: For some, you may get hung-up second-guessing your decision which causes you to spend precious energy. Make the decision anyway, you may never have all the answers and you can never know everything. However, you can do your due diligence, listen to your instincts, and go for it. After all, few decisions are irreversible. If you make a decision are you stuck with the consequences forever? NO! Even a tattoo is removable.
- Learn to deal with your stress: Even if you do everything right, ambiguity still causes stress. You must have outlets to help you manage your stress. Take some quiet time, shut your door (if you have a door, or go someplace quiet, a stairwell, the bathroom, your car…) to relax your mind, practice deep breathing, meditation, read a book, or have a healthy snack and water…talk to a friend.
What Is Ambiguity Leadership?
In today’s economic climate, no two days are the same, change and ambiguity are expected. When leaders can effectively shift gears midway in the progression of a project; coping with change and ambiguity, tight budgets, limited resources and acting without having the total picture, leaders are better able to handle risk and uncertainty. It’s about being comfortable in uncertainty. As a leader, how comfortable are you with ambiguity? According to research done by an Executive Development Group, an essential trait of effective leaders is the ability to be positive in the face of uncertainty and positively manage ambiguity.
Ambiguity in Leadership: An Example
As we know, ambiguity in leadership is dealing with uncertain outcomes and unclear direction. Traditional ways of thinking about leadership assumed everything was controllable and predictable. However, controllable and predictable are old schools of thought. Ambiguity in leadership is the new normal and one of the core behavioral competencies of a successful leader, Batsuk, A.B., 2015.
For example, Dillan, a leader in a large petroleum company has recently been promoted as a global real estate analyst and tasked with a new project, where the parameters are undefined.
One concern for Dillan is, there are conflicting interests between his managers, the way they each see problems differently and how they see and go about finding resolve. Therefore, the situation is ambiguous and Dillan does not have a clear scope of the project. Another area that Dillan finds himself caught in is one manager has a traditional leadership style and the other manager has an open-minded style of leadership. What Dillan sees between the two leadership styles are:
The traditional leadership style is more comfortable avoiding ambiguity and prefers to set clear parameters to complete the project in a timely fashion.
The other manager, however, is more comfortable with ambiguity and prefers to work on a project like a bingo game, all over the board.
In the beginning, Dillan sometimes felt caught in the middle of a ping-pong game between the two managers. It was Dillan’s responsibility to come up with an output acceptable to everyone. During talks with the two managers, Dillan became a giant sponge, with a pen and a blank piece of paper, putting together a plan as he listened to both sides. Based on his core values of structure and valuing his team members, Dillan knew without a doubt structure would be essential because it is timeless and transcends all generations no matter the situation, the people, and the job. He also knew listening to his people and valuing their perspectives would create more openness and learning among team members.
Being Present in Ambiguity
Bringing your self, your values, passion, creativity, and discerning judgment to any situation is what being present is all about (O’Neill, M.B. 2007). Another aspect of being present in ambiguity is knowing and valuing the differences of your people, different generations, and different leadership styles. According to O’Neill, bringing your presence to a situation allows you to move forward in your own unique way, making the most of your own strengths and interests, which also helps the team move forward as well.
In Dillan’s situation above, for example, openness helped his manager with the traditional leadership style pull his millennial open-minded leadership style manager towards a more structured approach. The millennial open-minded leadership style works best with minimal structure. When there is more openness it forces the traditional leadership style to be open to learning.
Dillan has learned through the experience in his new role and by managing the progression of the new project, how to be present in ambiguity. For Dillan, he learned to be spontaneous and resilient all while staying grounded in his values in order to keep the situation open. He was able to identify and sustain a goal, manage himself in the midst of ambiguity, increase his tolerance for reactivity not only in himself but others around him, and bring togetherness to the moment (O’Neill, M.B. 2007). By being present in ambiguity, it brought value to the perspectives of his managers who in turn were able to work together to identify a goal and plan for the new project.
GoodTherapy.org tells us: Learning to be amenable with ambiguity is recognizing that total certainty is an illusion, we control some of our life but not all of it. Practicing meditation helps alleviate the stress and sleeplessness that can come from ambiguity. Exercise helps release the tension and pent up energy from dealing with ambiguous situations. Take action where you can, consider how you want to move forward in an ambiguous situation, Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org.
Putting It All Together
Leadership strengths including navigating ambiguity helps new and established leaders refine current skills, develop flexibility, and respond to unexpected challenges. As a leader, how comfortable are you with ambiguity? Try one or more of the tips Shaw gives for dealing with ambiguity.
For example, suppress your urge to control things, understand that some of your decisions will be wrong, and learn to deal with your stress.
Ambiguity in leadership is the new normal and one of the core behavioral competencies of a successful leader, revisit Dillan’s story above. Learning to be amenable with ambiguity is recognizing that total certainty is an illusion, we control some of our life but not all of it. An essential trait of effective leaders is the ability to be positive in the face of uncertainty while positively managing ambiguity.
What experiences do you have navigating ambiguity? What are the most effective ways you develop your leadership strengths to include ambiguity? Would you like a coaching session through an ambiguous situation? I can help!
I would love your thoughts, comments or experiences on how leaders can navigate through ambiguity! Join the discussion.