Navigating Uncertainty

Like most of us, I’ve come to many crossroads in my life involving profound uncertainty. Having a billboard outside my window giving clear direction would have been really convenient; however, leadership often involves navigating through a sea of questions, without a clear map or working compass.

Despite the surrounding fog, it is the responsibility of the leader to have a compelling vision and be prepared to move forward. How to do that when there are more questions than answers?

I’ve come to rest on four general pillars to help set direction:

  1. Gut instinct
  2. Wise counsel
  3. Awareness of long-term trends
  4. Providential circumstance

I realize that it may not have the panache of an MBA-fueled analysis, but the longer I live, the more I trust my gut instincts. A leader should have a moral and common-sense internal compass that is honed over time, whereby opportunities, threats, and general direction are seen at least in outline form, if not with perfect up-front clarity. If your modus operandi is to cut corners, lie, cheat, and hurt others in order to get short-term gain, however, I don’t recommend you rely on your gut instincts. That’s a compass that doesn’t recognize true north.

Getting wise counsel from others is a sign of a real leader, who is humble enough to understand his/her limitations, and who recognizes the value of multiple perspectives. I have no idea how many mistakes I’ve been spared through the wisdom of others. It is not weakness, in uncertainty, to try to gain light from as many luminaries as you can. It’s just smart.

One reason that it is important for leaders to read and think widely is because it brings awareness of long-term trends. Leaders understand what is fueling large-scale cultural movements, and are better able than others to discern what is an enduring trend, versus a short-term fad. When the particulars of today are uncertain, an effective leader is still navigating by those things that have the aura of inevitability and growth.

It’s highly unlikely that the best opportunity for me or any company I’d work with is to be found in the jungles of Papua New Guinea. Why? Because I am here, with a particular set of skills, tied in with a certain network, located in a sphere of labor and opportunity by providential circumstance. When in doubt about where to lead, be certain that it probably involves leveraging your present circumstances to create the future.

What do you think? This Tuesday night (8 pm ET), we’ll be discussing Leadership in the midst of Uncertainty for our weekly #LeadershipChat on Twitter. Before the magic hour, be sure you also read the perspectives of my wise co-moderator, Lisa Petrilli, on her blog.

(hint: one very easy way to participate is by using a client like Tweetchat. Just log in, read the stream of thoughts that are being shared, and feel free to chime in with your reactions and questions.)


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About Steve Woodruff
Steve Woodruff is a blogger, a Connection Agent, and a consultant in the pharma/healthcare industry. He specializes in helping people and companies make mutually beneficial connections.

One Response to Navigating Uncertainty

  1. Can’t believe I missed #leadershipchat AGAIN…geez. Thank goodness for your posts or I would have no idea about leaders 😉 Well…I will tell you that I agree 100% with the four ways that you find direction. The most important for me this last year has been gut feelings. It has saved me from many a bad client, and has connected me with some awesome opportunities. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have some very wise counsel around myself too 🙂

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