Friday, August 15, 2014

clear ambiguity

When trying to explain a concept to someone else that I might struggle to understand, I often get that look that is telling me, "Your explanation is as clear as mud!"  Sometimes I have to start over, and sometimes I have to accept the fact that no matter how hard I try, the explanation will continue to be "clear as mud" until either I have a better understanding of the concept or I find someone else who can do a better job of explaining the issue.

This past week I have come face-to-face with the reality that in an executive role, most decisions that come across one's desk are, to say the least, "clear as mud."  All of the leadership and management texts remind us that the tough decisions are those that are neither black or white, but a very dark (and murky) gray.  There are no easy answers to these type of decision, and leaders need to get comfortable with ambiguity and paradox.  The good news is you do not need to make a quick decision...the bad news is that you have to live with the ambiguity of the decision.  In other words, the ambiguity of the decisions making process will become very clear.

So how do leaders create a clear ambiguity in their decision making process?  Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Remind yourself - and others - that you do not have all the answers.
  2. Get really good at asking questions - and make sure they are questions to which you do not know the answer.
  3. Listen to a lot of people - ask the same questions over and over of different people and see how they respond.
  4. Listen deeply - ask probing questions of people's initial answers.
  5. Take your time - there is a reason these decisions are ambiguous and paradoxical - they are big and tough and deserve the time they need.
  6. Read - learn everything you can about the issue so that you can ask knowledgeable questions and interact with other professionals.
  7. Have a trusted team you can go to and probe the issue deeply, with no fear of being held to your ideas or words.
  8. Consider alternatives...keep asking the "what if" questions.
  9. Relax - the world does not revolve around you or your organization.  Someone else might be able to solve the issue.
  10. Be ruthless - take the issue on directly and make it personally yours (note the paradox here) because once you own the issue (see last week's blog) you can then deal with the ambiguity it brings.
  11. Trust that God is in control - and that you have been placed by Him into this role to engage in these type of decisions.  
So enjoy the ambiguity - and remember that is why you have been called to lead, because you love ideas and issues that are "clear as mud!"



1 comment:

Ben Haley said...

Be glad that you get the ambiguous questions. If easy questions make it to your desk then something is wrong with the organization that prevents people from addressing the obvious choices.

In many cases these decisions are not critical. If one choice was clearly better then it would not be an ambiguous choice. Therefore, don't get paralyzed trying to make the perfect decision in every case. Sometimes the best course is pick a course and move forward.

An interesting paradox of leadership: you get the hard questions where the decision is less important than the example you set in making it. Setting the vision for the organization and making sure everyone is tracking towards that vision are more likely to be critical than these ambiguous decisions.