Coping with the Unknown

Have you ever felt that you just cant predict the best course of action? Have you ever been frozen, unable to make a decision as you’re overwhelmed by the complexity of the situation?

In an environment of complexity and pressure, it is more difficult to keep track of the organisational strategy perhaps your divisions or teams strategy is espoused by those at a higher level, perhaps the articulated strategy no longer fits the context, or perhaps you feel you are required to operate in a strategy-vacuum.  Regardless, there are multiple paths and possibilities to operationalise the strategy.

Your team members are seeking clarity, looking to you to define priorities, and to be totally honest, you feel you have insufficient information on which to base your decisions.

What do you do?

Throughout my career, I have realised that being intelligent having the smarts, or having knowledge is not enough.  My challenge has been to have the emotional capacity to sit with the ambiguity, without stressing out.  This requires a strong sense of self, and the ability to sit on the balcony so I can look at the situation from afar.

Perhaps the irony is that in the first half of my career, I was successful because I knew the answers.  Then, the challenge became to learn how to move forward when I didn’t really know the answer.  And to hold the tension of not knowing, month in, month out.  This is definitely a work in progress.

So, what does it mean to sit on the balcony?

For me, it means taking the opportunity to reflect on the current situation from afar to step back, take a breath, separate myself from the urgency and intensity of getting things done.  While this looks like inactivity, it is very different to freezing.

Through evaluating the state of play from a different perspective and acknowledging that you may not be in a position to assess the suitability of your decisions for at least a year or two, or perhaps even longer you may be able to identify different options.  This awareness can support you in replacing the pattern of knowing with a willingness to consider multiple pathways, as the context changes.  In this way, you can set yourself up to cope with the unknown.

In my experience, this is where executive coaching can really bring significant value.  By creating opportunities to reflect on the current situation, and taking the time to explore alternative pathways, you give yourself permission to evaluate options and to keep decisions open.  This does not mean delaying decisions, nor does it mean waiting until there is no choice remaining, but simply to review the options as the context changes.

When is being smart (or knowing the answers) enough?  What can you do to build your emotional capacity and resilience in not knowing, so that you can still move ahead?

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