By Anja van den Berg
The emergence of the global coronavirus pandemic made one thing abundantly clear: leaders need to be agile and adaptable to navigate change, uncertainty, and disruption.
And, while worldwide pandemics luckily aren’t an everyday occurrence, we certainly can’t avoid the ever-increasing complexity of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Leaders often say they feel stuck, ill-equipped, or overwhelmed as they face the growing challenges of their roles. This is according to research duo Rebecca Zucker and Darin Rowell, both being executive coaches to high-profile clients in prestigious companies.
It’s rather understandable that people feel this way. In their book, Immunity to Change, Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey describe that the complexity of our world has surpassed our complexity of mind.
To put this in concrete terms, consider how technology has transformed our world. Computing power has increased more than a trillion-fold since the mid-1950s. Yet, our brains have remained unchanged for millennia.
Zucker and Rowell recommend strategies that accelerate a leader’s ability to continually learn, evolve, and navigate progressively more complex challenges. Embracing the discomfort of not knowing is at the top of their list.
Throughout our lives and careers, we are taught to come with clear-cut answers. This is especially true for high achievers who have built their careers on knowing or finding that elusive, cookie-cutter, ‘right’ answer.
In a way, our physiology drives our need to alleviate ambiguity. Our brains are hardwired to be aversive to uncertainty; we perceive it as a threat to survival. It’s physiologically normal to feel stress when faced with unfamiliar situations.
Avoiding unpleasant feelings associated with uncertainty is a natural human tendency but can become a significant barrier to learning, future growth, and ultimately performance. Zucker and Rowell advise leaders to embrace discomfort as a natural part of the learning process.
As described by Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, leaders must shift from a ‘know it all’ to a ‘learn it all’ mindset. Paradoxically, this shift in perspective can help ease the discomfort caused by uncertainty by taking the pressure from you to have all the answers.
Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2021/04/6-strategies-for-leading-through-uncertainty?registration=success