What’s your tolerance for uncertainty? As a leader, either too much or too little is bad for your health, and bad for the health of the organization you lead. Unfortunately, more and more our world surrounds us with uncertainty.
A few weeks ago I was working with a client in an organization that has an ownership team that has an amazing willingness to live with uncertainty. They hold off making decisions. They collect data from widely varied sources. No decision that has been made is considered sacred – all decisions can be unmade and often are. Reconsideration is held as an important path to excellence.
In some ways, this culture has served the organization well. They have won many product and process awards because of their dedication to redesign and more redesign. They see themselves as open and creative, which they are. They’ve done things some organizations would never have thought to do.
They also pay a price. They slow their work process, because people are reluctant to act on a decision that may be reversed. They encourage collaboration, but people give up because of the indecision. They often pay a financial price for delays and changes. They wear out employees, physically and emotionally. They frustrate vendors.
On the other hand, there is another leader I work with who sees certainty as a strength. He makes decisions quickly and he hates unknowns. He is incredibly reliable and sticks with a decision he’s made no matter what. People always know where they stand. He has highly efficient processes throughout his organization.
He also tends to be closed to new information and ignores data that would suggest another path. He struggles when conditions change than require course corrections. He shuts out the opinions of others. People become unwilling to make decisions without his input, so he gets dragged into minutae. His organization looks to status quo rather than creative solutions. He becomes stressed when he is faced with uncertainty and takes it out on employees. Again, benefits and costs.
It’s not just important to look at leaders’ tolerance for uncertainty. Look at where your team sits on the spectrum. Having team members with varying tolerances for uncertainty can be a strength of the team, if you can take advantage of the best of both. It can also cause a lot of conflict and frustration if not managed properly.
Look at your decision making process, your pace, your involvement of others. Look at how your willingness to live with uncertainty impacts others in your team, in your staff. Experiment with trying some new behaviors to move you more in one direction or another.
Understanding where you are on the spectrum will help you attend to how you can be better and have a wider range of choices.