It is a common cry, a plaintive cry, that those who are in charge, whether referees in a football game, employers or political leaders do not know what they are doing.
This morning in my Twitter stream was such a cry…
“You really do wonder if politicians have a clue about what they are doing. I see disaster on the cards…”
“I am sure they do not know but we the electorate, fuelled by the media, demand that they act as if they know”
And this is the modern leadership dilemma.
We, within our societies, or within our businesses and even within our families, look to those who we perceive as leading us and expect that they know all the answers. When it becomes clear that they do not, then we become anxious or disillusioned.
So we look to our voted MPs, and more critically at those with leadership and cabinet roles amongst them.
We look to the CEO, the MD or the owner manager, and expect them to know the answers and to get it right.
As a father and husband I am acutely aware of times when my children and wife look to me, needing me to have THE answer.
And sometimes we have to put up our hands and say “You know what? I don’t know.”
Very often we do not know what we are doing. We do not know how we are going to resolve a situation, a conflict or a problem. Our politicians do not know what will work in a rapidly changing economic and political landscape. Business owners do not know that their latest initiative will deliver the results they have forecasted.
I am convinced that over the next 10 to 20 years we are going to have to get used to dealing with ambiguity, get more comfortable with the “Not knowing.” If we do not then we will fall into a leadership vortex where the new man or woman is voted in only to become pariah within months or weeks as the next wave of change breaks upon the shore.
Organisations need to realise that leadership will be more about holding the collective uncertainty at tolerable levels so that the people within the organisation can continue to operate. (For more on this see Ronald Heifetz’s work on Adaptive Leadership)
And in families, more than ever, we will need greater intimacy and vulnerability, certainly between husband and wife, so that when either of them “does not know” then we can be frank, open and fallible with the other.
Neil Denny is an author and speaker on conflict and collaboration skills. You can buy his book Conversational Riffs; Creating Meaning Out of Conflict here