Why is it so hard to keep up with the pace of change these days?
Some ascribe it to the overwhelming amount of information we try to process every day. Others point to the rapid pace of change. Both are partly to blame. But the primary reason is our brains were not constructed to work efficiently in a hyper-paced world full of ambiguity and uncertainty.
Instead of welcoming change and easily adapting to it, our brains prefer to travel the same well-worn mental pathways. This leads to making the same mistakes over and over by doing the same things and expecting different results. When this occurs, leaders often get trapped in inaction when what’s needed is the ability to make smart decisions and move forward when surrounded by ambiguity.
Successfully guiding organizations through transition requires a leadership trait that often gets overlooked – resilience. In fact, when we’re hit with wave after wave of change, the ability to spring back into shape and quickly recover from difficult (i.e., ambiguous) conditions is paramount.
Excellence Starts with Intent
Resilient leaders exhibit five traits that keep their organizations on track and moving in the right direction even when buffeted by the winds of ambiguity. These are:
1. Positive attitude.
Resilient people experience the same fear and apprehension as everyone else when in times of uncertainty. However, they can usually maintain their productivity as well as their physical and emotional stability while achieving most of their objectives. This comes from retaining their sense of security and self-assurance based on a view of life as complex but filled with opportunity.
Humans can choose how we react to change. We can see the silver lining in cloudy situations, or we can focus on the negative. Unfortunately, humans tend to believe every thought that runs through our minds is fact rather than opinion or interpretation. Once negative thoughts become facts, we constantly ruminate on them, worrying about the same thing over and over.
To escape the trap of negativity, we need to remind ourselves that often what we think or hear is neither true nor false; it’s just a thought. Then we need to change perspective by periodically poking our brains with neuroprompts, intentionally asking ourselves questions such as:
- a six year old was involved
- I worked for a competitor
- I were just hired
- I made the decisions regarding the change
- I’m wrong
Seeing the world differently enables us to spring back, bend, and adapt to achieve.
Having a clear vision of what we want to achieve for ourselves and what others need to achieve is the foundation for business success. It’s even more important during times of change.
To clarify your destination, focus on what you want to achieve as if you have already achieved it. Continue breaking from routine and taking a novel approach. Embrace the “yes, and…” rule, rolling with what comes versus refuting it. Be open to trying new things and build on others’ ideas. Pause to consider what you know, based on real data rather than your beliefs and assumptions. Keep what is clear in front of you at all times, updating it as necessary. Ask:
- What do we know now?
- What have we learned?
- What do we need to learn?
- What will future customers and employees need?
- What must we do now?
- What industry dynamics do we need to factor in?
Learning enables us to gather data, balance emotion, understand implications, develop insights, and identify strategic alternatives.
When responding to ambiguity, resilient leaders don’t allow themselves to get constrained by their own thoughts or those of others. They open up to new perspectives, combining ideas in unique ways and making connections between seemingly unrelated ideas. They’re open to testing new ideas and changing deeply held beliefs so they don’t get trapped in old ways of thinking or stuck in worked in the past.
To develop a structured approach to managing ambiguity, resilient leaders create frameworks to sort and process information. They identify clear decision criteria for determining what needs to happen, and develop systems or processes for getting things done in a timely manner. They think through steps and actions before jumping in. Upon launching an action, they monitor results through follow-up systems and checking in with others.
Instead of letting change dictate their actions, resilient leaders engage it head-on. They seek data about new work situations and develop backup plans for important activities. Then they target important areas for innovation and develop solutions that address meaningful work issues and opportunities. They demonstrate decisiveness by taking timely action to address an issue, prevent a problem from arising, or solve a problem. They make explicit the key operating and financial performance measures and goals and hold individuals and the organization accountable for achieving those results.
Managing with excellence in uncertainty is not about getting one right answer. It’s about pre-thinking and being ready. It’s about slowing down to keep up with the change and update constantly. To use your brain most effectively in constant change, take 30 seconds to be intentional. Clear your mind and reset. Look around…ponder, wonder, and change perspective while asking “What If?” questions to prompt your brain.
The difference between excellence and average will depend on where you spend your time, what you focus on, what you fill your brain with, how you direct others, being intentional about your thinking, and having the willingness to change your response to what’s in front of you.