How Agile Leaders Address Uncertainty


As leaders, we are expected to deal with change and uncertainty.  While no one can be expected to predict the future, it is often difficult for leaders to admit that they don’t have all the answers as to what the future will bring.  They may also be concerned that their lack of clarity will reflect a leadership weakness or shortcoming, so look to conceal the fact, or retract and not ask questions. Worse still, some hide behind this as a reason not to make a decision and accept the status quo even where it is apparent on the information available that this may not be the best approach.

So how do agile leaders overcome this?

Agile Leaders take the opportunity to address ambiguity and uncertainty through being open and transparent with their teams about what aspects of the future they aren’t sure about. They share their assumptions and their reasoning and leverage the collective knowledge available to them. They don’t consider it a leadership weakness or failing, rather an opportunity to engage and leverage their teams in the process of identify the best path forward. 

Taking this approach and being open about your assumptions provides several benefits:

1)  It allows your team to better understand the rationale and decision making basis for the direction you choose to take, providing greater engagement and commitment to the plan. In times of change and uncertainty, this process becomes particularly important. It also provides access to opinions and points of view that may be helpful in developing clarity of direction.

The reality is that in areas where you may be uncertain, it is very likely that your manager, peers, and reports share the same uncertainty because the answers are not simply available.

2)  The process exposes you to other potential scenarios, which makes you much more prepared and ready to react should the assumptions turn out not to be valid. Like any good strategy or planning process, it’s wise to consider and evaluate multiple scenarios based on what you know today. Making assumptions isn’t about random guesses, it is about filling in the gaps in order to make the best decision based on the data available to you at this point in time.

3)  By being open and stating your assumptions, you are not locking yourself into a single course of action. It makes it clear that these are assumptions, and you are prepared to adjust and change should those assumptions not turn out to be correct. It lessens the tendency for managers to persist with a wrong strategy to avoid having to admit that they were wrong. 

Far too often companies and leaders continue down a path well beyond the point when it becomes evident that the direction is not optimal, in the hope that circumstances will change. The assumption process lessens the tendency to anchor the organization and actually becomes the trigger for change.   

4) It provides leaders and their teams a best path forward without unnecessarily delaying or deferring a decision. When used appropriately, it can provide your organization a competitive advantage in the market and put you out ahead of other competitors who are slow or fail to react changes in the market.  

Agile Leaders adapt and evolve as the world around them changes. Through being open and transparent with the assumptions for the future, you are creating a framework to navigate uncertainty. While predictions about the future are never guaranteed, it allows you to best position your organisation based on today and be prepared to adapt going forward. 

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