Look For Leaders Who Crave Uncertainty

Think of all the certainties many of us were so sure of just 20 years ago…
         Banks can’t fail
         The European Union is unbreakable
         Terrorism won’t hit U.S. soil
         Phones are for talking with people
         Clergy are above reproach
         Cars can’t drive themselves
         Wise executives take stock options over cash compensation
         The morning news is delivered in print format

    And then things changed.

    Yet, things always change. That is why when it comes to succession and executive
    selection, it pays to favor candidates who are comfortable with uncertainty.

    “We live in uncertain times,” is a mantra that has been voiced since the beginning of time, with each generation calling theirs the most uncertain of all. So, it is understandable why people long for some semblance of certainty in their lives.

    In fact, we are literally hard-wired to crave the stability of foregone conclusions.
    Certainty is Static
    Trends in neuroscience research show that the brain stores every bit of our memories and actions. It uses this information to map out how things will be--not just for each moment, but also for the long term. This concept of predictability is so powerful that it serves as the foundation for Artificial Intelligence.

    When the brain senses the loss of predictability, it moves into a fight or flight mode. Thus, our desire for the safety of certainty. Yet danger lurks in this false sense of safety, for our minds are subject to revisionist histories that spin and reinterpret facts and events. This can cloud even our most confident illusions of certainty (which are always associated with the past rather than the future).

    Uncertainty Drives Possibilities
    While some of us have personalities that are continually drawn to the stability of certainty, others thrive in less predictable environments. Those who soar in uncertainty, but who are grounded in reality make the best leaders; and those of us who need to feel safe deserve to be led by only the most bold, mature and flexible people at the helm. That is why, when searching for executive leadership, it is best to refrain from candidates who are most comfortable with the status quo.

    To manage in this uncertain world, we need leaders who crave to be in the vanguard, get their energy from “out-of-the-box” thinking, embrace uncertainty as a doorway to possibilities, and are willing to continually assess their illusions of certainty.  

    The next time you are charged with responsibility to select a leader, resist the temptation to gravitate to candidates who talk in terms of stability and security. Pay attention to how much importance each candidate places on surprise, ambiguity and the unknown.

    The people in your organization will attach themselves solidly to a leader who is unafraid yet prudent; ambitious without being foolhardy; eager rather than tentative. The future depends on candidates who crave uncertainty.

    “Without the element of uncertainty…the greatest business triumph would be dull, routine and eminently unsatisfying.”
    J. Paul Getty

    Image courtesy of winnond@FreeDigitalPhotos.net