16 May The Certainty Series 3 of 3
In today’s world where the only constant is change, one of the greatest leadership qualities to develop is the ability to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. As human beings we seek certainty (at its basic level, certainty is safety) but sometimes the way we get certainty doesn’t serve us or our teams.
In this series of three blogs we explore five common ‘certainty’ defaults leaders use, and what to do instead to get better results from your team.
Avoidance tends to be a quieter strategy than the ones previously mentioned. It’s when we gain certainty through staying the same, be it in ourselves or our environment. It can manifest as being the last to have a go, or adopt a change. Sometimes it’s complete dismissal “It’ll never happen”, sometimes it’s choosing to remain ignorant “I’ll never need to know that”.
In Hooked on Leadership we see it when the ‘nice person’ says “You all go first, don’t worry about me if we don’t have time” or “That was good enough” when they nearly complete an exercise because they are avoiding the hard conversation or action.
If a leader excels at avoidance the team learns to hold back, accept low standards, not have the hard conversations, and won’t take opportunities for growth. Not ideal for a high performing culture.
Overwhelm may seem counter intuitive to certainty as it generally looks chaotic, emotional and all over the place. However for some people, overwhelm is comfortable. They are well practised at it and know it intimately, and so it becomes a place of certainty for them.
Overwhelm is a great place for sympathy and excuses, and others often rush in to rescue or comfort. The first three certainty strategies – Over reliance on Knowledge, Control and Social Proof – are very obviously ego driven, but overwhelm is more insidious. People in overwhelm look like they are trying their hardest, thinking about everything all the time, have far too much to do to succeed, and may want to let you know all about it. They can look earnest and busy and running at everything, but this is another strategy that is focussed on themselves and what they can or cannot do.
Imagine if a leader’s default is overwhelm – how likely is it that the team goes to ask for advice, bounce ideas, and escalate issues? What about challenging each other, or delivering stretch targets? And how about considering the impact on others and managing conflicting objectives?
So what do we do instead?
Avoidance and Overwhelm are self focused, and generally come from a fear of not being good enough. Instead of worrying about why ‘I’ might not be good enough, we have to turn the focus onto our team and ask “what do they need from me right now to succeed”. That may be the tough conversation, or a coaching chat, or advice on maintaining a standard. And if we don’t know how to do that, we find out and learn. In this way we are shifting our focus from self to others. And not making it about us!