Few things are certain in this world. When you take over a leadership position for the first time, you undoubtedly will face a world of uncertainty. Everything from how to motivate your team to how you will hit your goals is essentially unknown when you first take the reins. But it’s not necessarily a bad thing, says Julie Benezet, author of The Journey of Not Knowing.
“Entering the unknown releases the world of possibilities,” she says. “It allows us to lead others to make the future happen. Being comfortable with the discomfort of not knowing is not easy. It calls on us to find our inner compass and see the world without varnish. We also learn to trust no matter how scary it gets.”
She offers these seven tips for leading when you are facing shifting expectations and looming unknowns:
1. Lead employees into the future, rather than shackle them to the present
Your focus is not on business as usual, but business as it could be. Look for and create new opportunities in every aspect of organizational life, whether it is a company’s market position, work culture, talent development or new products. Seek and embrace ways to make life better for your employees, your customers and the communities you are engaged in. Learn what your stakeholders really need, and then come up with new, viable and effective ways to meet those needs.
2. Embrace the fear of the unknown
Stop seeing the scary issues as a liability and view them as assets. The world has never been more ambiguous, scary and full of opportunities. Strive to be a champion and not be faint of heart. Be willing to take on the risks of uncertain battles with uncertain outcomes that come with new ideas. Flex with your people and develop new organization processes that are capable of adapting to and leveraging every new situation as things play out differently from what was anticipated. Rejoice and celebrate when a new idea leads to something better for the organization.
3. Define the purpose that will lead people through the discomfort of not knowing the outcome
The road to better outcomes is very uncomfortable. Try new ideas knowing and accepting that you will not be able to know what will happen. Allow yourself to be guided by a strong sense of purpose, a good sense of humor and a healthy dose of humility. Identify and embrace the ideals that give you and employees deep personal meaning.
4. Learn from every difficult lesson and failure along the way
Experiment with new ideas, technologies, approaches, systems and people. Embrace and celebrate failures especially when they are risky but laden with great potential. Look at bumps along the road as learning opportunities rather than reasons to slash headcount, slow down or abandon the quest. Use them to revise, improve and drive the organization forward. Most important, congratulate and thank employees for their efforts and bravery, to restore their spirits and galvanize them so they don’t give up.
5. Recognize that human beings are messy
People come with their own set of requirements. Everyone is unique. There is no manual that will guide you in all circumstances. There is no way to predict what each person will do in any situation. Rise to every challenge and find the courage to connect with others and understand them on their terms. Be willing to ask many questions to learn what they see and seek. Learn to work with the difficulties they experience and help them overcome the challenges they face.
6. Be open to new knowledge and be critical of your current knowledge
The right information can be hard to attain, so always question the information you have available to you and seek new details or perspectives. Develop and maintain an open channel that allows a free flow of education, uncluttered by fears and prejudices. Learn and explore who you are and how you got here. Separate and let go of the past so that you can identify and act on what is relevant to the future.
7. Know when to move forward, even when you realize there is more to know
You can become only so familiar with the relevant facts and the personal agendas of others. You can never know everything there is to know. The world changes every second of every day. People change, facts change, situations change and opportunities come and go.
Sometimes you have to go with your gut and make a decision so that people and the organization can move forward. Ask yourself: Do we know enough to make a decision that is worth risking its unknown outcome? Involve employees in the discussion. Then make the decision when you feel that the value of going forward is greater than not going forward.
The Journey of Not Knowing by former Amazon executive Julie Benezet provides a new approach to leadership that accepts the scariness of the unknown as a powerful source of motivation rather than a deterrent to building a company’s better future. She has devoted her professional life to building companies, real estate and careers. She currently works as an executive consultant, coach and teacher, following 25 years in business and law. She is the founder of The Journey of Not Knowing, a peer based leadership development program that focuses on developing a leadership mindset while deepening core leadership competencies.