Leaders spend much of our lives contemplating the unknown. We are tasked with, and welcome, the opportunity to create something that does not exist. We are travelers on a trail not yet established. If we are to lead well, we must learn to envision and create the future in the midst of the unknown.
However, even for the most seasoned leader, there are moments when the unknown can become a formidable adversary. When faced with multiple, unproven options, which doors do we choose to open? Scenario planning is fine and often helpful, but plans are merely a starting point. Reality has a way of yielding the most brilliant strategies and thoughtful tactics useless in the heat of battle.
Doubt is a sobering emotion. But it is good to be sober. If you’ve led for any length of time, I assume you have been in situations riddled with the unknown. As leaders, we should not move carelessly into the future. There is too much at stake: The lives of those who follow us; the legacy of those who have preceded us; the opportunities before us, all demand thoughtful next steps.
So what do you do if you don’t know what to do? I have no silver bullet to offer – the following are steps that have served me over the years when plagued by doubt.
Affirm your goal. Are you crystal clear on what you are trying to achieve? Do you know what success would look like? Do you have a deep commitment to achieve your goal? Is there passion burning deep within you to stay the course? Are you convinced beyond any reasonable doubt that you must persist and prevail? If so, you have no choice but to push through the unknown.
Confirm what you know. This post is built on the reality of the unknown and as counterintuitive as it may seem, my best advice when crippled by doubt is to affirm what you do know. Literally, make a list. Include the significant and seemingly insignificant items on your list. Consider this list the factual attributes in your case on why you should proceed. What you know may actually help you figure out what to do next.
Move forward. Don’t become paralyzed by the unknown. Leaders lead. Leaders keep moving. Yes, your actions should be thoughtful, but there is always uncertainty in leadership. If there is no uncertainty, there is no need for leadership. The presence of uncertainty ensures our role going forward. If the leader perceives no uncertainty, there is probably hubris present. The best leaders know they don’t know everything. However, this does not stop them from taking action.
Expect to be wrong. Even the best leaders make mistakes. If we could measure a leader’s batting average, it would probably surprise us all. As a young leader, I was encouraged not to spend too much time thinking about my decisions; I was coached that if I was a good leader, I would still only bat around .500. I don’t know my batting average or yours, but I do know the fear of striking out does not prevent the best leaders from swinging for the fences – a swing and a miss comes with the territory.
Don’t let doubt debilitate you and don’t let it make you question your leadership. Use it as an ever present reminder of your humanity and then lead on![GLS_Shield]