From time to time, I talked about how leaders should assess the context before they make any decision. This context, non-linear and incomprehensible, calls for adaptation and flexibility. We have now strong evidence that flexible and adaptive leadership is essential to handle challenges and succeed in an evolving environment.
Preparation for uncertainty
“Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind”, Bruce Lee said.
That wind comes today in the form of uncertainty and lack of comprehension of what is happening. Again, the context is playing against our abilities, and leaders need to find more resources to thrive.
They can develop a strategic vision based on some understanding of the situation. From there, they can come to some strong conclusions which will guide their decisions.
That’s the way our brain works. The problem is that once we come to a solution, we tend to stick to it. There’s nothing more complicated for a human being than changing their mind once they think they’re right. And yet, reality can change fast.
It is precisely that stickiness to our thoughts what makes us brittle, like the tree, when changes come.
Dealing with uncertainty implies being able to change our mind if circumstances change. We should probably abandon the idea of a leader having all the answers. Embracing the fact that leaders we now need should be people willing to admit they don’t know everything; people who can be flexible to adapt their decisions to new circumstances without the fearing of being questioned for that.
Stick to the why, change the how
This is easier said than done. We all fear what others could think; for leaders it is even worse since they are in the spotlight. Therefore, they must work on this balance between giving their people enough confidence and explaining the changes in their decisions; being flexible doesn’t mean that we don’t know where we aim to.
Therefore, they must state a clear why and stick to it. The purpose should act like a compass in dealing with the fog of ambiguity; going on with this metaphor, anyone can understand that there is more than one way to reach a destination, and that it might be dependent on the geography we find.
The key point here is that leaders should be able to explain the changes. The lesson behind is that flexibility should never be a trade-off with trust.
Balance between the known and the unknown
This is about to sit on ambiguity. We are so used to look for the best choice that, many times, we don’t realize we can’t. We don’t have enough time or information to do that.
Flexibility is about looking for a good enough choice, knowing that we could be wrong, and we’ll need to change. It’s about using the information we have when we have it, knowing that we probably don’t know everything we’d need. And yet, taking a decision that get us closer to where we want to be.