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People are more likely to follow a leader who is truthful about their uncertainty than one who makes unrealistic promises.
Many leaders think it’s their job to be certain when in reality things are very uncertain. How many changes have you implemented that went according to the original plan? Likely none.
The chief information officer for one of my clients gathered his team together to discuss their three-year strategy. But instead of trying to sell them on how it was going to roll out, he told his team, “You know what, guys, it’s hard to put a three-year plan in place. But this is what our customers have told us they want us to focus on. However, the chances of us following this exact plan is fairly minimal.” Some might think that he shouldn’t have shared this with the team. However, it’s better that leaders be honest rather than present certainty about factors over which they have no control.
As a front line leader, you need to ensure that you’re not making promises that are unrealistic. You have no control over what’s going to happen. So instead, acknowledge that there are many pathways that can take you from one point to the next.
In one future book idea, we are tentatively titling it Zigzag: Your Real Path To Success because the reality is that nearly all improvements will require you to make a series of adjustments to get where you want to go.
Being open to the possibilities that an alternate path can get you to your goal allows you to sincerely listen to someone who disagrees with the proposed course. Being open also helps team members be less defensive and more supportive of the plan.
Uncertainty also allows you to experiment. Most of life and business improvement is about experimenting. You might think you know exactly what needs to get done, but in reality, you don’t. You’re basing your judgments on past experience. Accept that you’re going to move forward anyway and tweak the plan as you go.
You, as a leader, need to stop trying to be absolutely certain because people see through it. Your front line workers will respond better when you acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers and that you need their support.
Remember — if it doesn’t work out, you can change it.
How do you, as a leader, handle uncertainty in your workplace? Let me know in the comments below.
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