Last week, as I was rushing to select a birthday card for a friend before heading to a meeting, one card in particular caught my eye. It showed a sepia photograph of an old wharf leading to a peaceful lake. The wharf had clearly seen better days: some of its floor boards were broken and some were missing. Some of the handrail posts were also gone. As I find beauty in things that are asymmetrical, I decided to purchase the card.
But it wasn't until that evening when I sat down to address the card that I noticed the back of it. It said: "Rely on your dreams". I found the juxtaposition of the old unstable wharf with the implication of "reliability" an interesting dichotomy – a subtle message from the artist on the power of our dreams and aspirations in times of instability and uncertainty.
As the late John Finley, English historian and mathematician tells us: "Maturity of mind is the capacity to endure uncertainty". This capacity to not get derailed or immobilized by the uncertainties and rapid, often chaotic changes we all face in our personal and professional lives, is a personal asset that is remarkable and rare amongst individuals.
In a study conducted by The Centre for Creative Leadership, inability to handle change emerged as one of the primary causes for executive derailment, (followed by inability to work well in a team and a deficit in interpersonal skills). Time and time again, I have seen highly competent and successful leaders, individuals with high IQ and strong knowledge in their area of expertise, get on the wrong path because they stubbornly refused to adapt to the changing demands of the moment.
And it is often during times of uncertainty and chaotic change that our behavior speaks louder about who we really are as a person. Having been personally involved in numerous management changes, mergers and acquisitions, rapid growth periods, and drastic "right sizing" and downsizing, I have seen two types of individuals who surface in these unsettling and uncertain conditions: those who manifest their shadow, their dark side, and those who help themselves and others around them to ride out the storm. The latter inevitably shine brighter and emerge as leaders, rising above the crowd.
As all project managers know, the uncertainty of major ventures or projects which go awry can have nefarious consequences that filter down to the rest of the organization, affecting everyone, from the mail clerk to the CEO – a careless acquisition, not paying attention to the rampant overhead of certain pet projects and not foreseeing changing trends, to name just a few. Developing competence in managing uncertainties is crucial. A short but insightful article published by MIT Sloan Management Review, entitled Managing Project Uncertainty: From Variation to Chaos, outlines four major types of uncertainties:
The authors state that companies that spend some time at the outset of a project to create an "uncertainty profile", that is, ascertain what kind of uncertainty is likely to dominate their project, will be better able to quickly adapt to it and choose the right management strategy. The article reveals numerous tools and techniques for managing each type of uncertainty such as using decision-tree techniques and sharing risk lists with all stakeholders.
Along the same vein, an insightful article is The Quest for Resilience, Harvard Business Review (September 2003). In turbulent, uncertain times, the only sure advantage is the capacity for reinventing your business model before it's too late.
Among the many wisdom nuggets in this article, what struck me is the notion that, as the leader, you need to "filter out the filterers", that is you need to find those individuals in the organization who are plugged tightly in to the future and understand well the implications for your company's business model – and allow these people to give voice to their opinions, without being censured by the watchdogs of the status quo who isolate you from potential distasteful news. As the author aptly puts it: "You should be wary of anyone who has a vested interest in your continued ignorance..."
Corporate uncertainty is not going away. Successful individuals within those companies are those that are agile and can adapt. So what are some strategies that you can use to make yourself change-proof and to cope with organizational uncertainty and the personal upheaval that it causes? Here are some suggestions for leaders and constituents:
I ended up keeping the birthday card that was destined for my friend. It is on my desk as a beautiful reminder of the strength that comes from relying on our dreams, on our purpose, on our passion, no matter how uncertain our current situation may be. These are the things that energize us, inspire us, propel us forward – the things that put a fire in our belly just thinking about them.
"What every man needs, regardless of his job or the kind of work he is doing, is a vision of what his place is and may be. He needs an objective and a purpose. He needs a feeling and a belief that he has some worthwhile thing to do. What this is no one can tell him. It must be his own creation." (Joseph M. Dodge, Sitterson Professor, Florida State University.)
Joy and hope are an inside job. Abandon the tendency to think that what is now will continue into the future. Focus on what you want for your future, rather than on what you don't want. Something remarkable happens when we successfully make that shift.
Copyright © 2006 by Bruna Martinuzzi. All Rights Reserved.
This article is adapted from Bruna Martinuzzi’s book: The Leader as a Mensch: Become the Kind of Person Others Want to Follow. Bruna is an educator, author, speaker and founder of Clarion Enterprises Ltd, a company which specializes in emotional intelligence, leadership, Myers-Briggs and presentation skills training. Click here to contact her or visit her website at www.increaseyoureq.com. Click here for other articles by Bruna.
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