Don’t hide Uncertainty and Ambiguity; Make them explicit

When I hear, “One of the key aspects of leadership is to be comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity.”, I ask, “what does it mean to be comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity?” Sadly, there have been no good crisp, actionable answers :(

So, here’s my take on leadership, uncertainty, and ambiguity.

A key aspect of leadership is to reduce the amount of uncertainty and ambiguity (aka chaos).

And the following actions can help us get started.

  1. Identify the uncertainty and ambiguity in play and share it with your team and partners.
  2. Identify the reasons for uncertainty and ambiguity, and share them with your team and partners.
  3. Identify partners who have an essential role in decisions/plans involving uncertainty and ambiguity, and include them in discussions about the decisions/plans.
  4. Always document decisions; even decisions to not decide.

The success of the above actions hinges on being comfortable with “Even with all the info on hand, I/we may not know better” state. It also hinges on digging for information, chatting with people, and conducting experiments. Further, being open to previously unconsidered possibilities/reasons is important. And finally, having a mindset that resolving uncertainty and ambiguity will likely be a collective effort will help quite a bit.

In addition to the above actions, always encourage actions that help keep uncertainty and ambiguity at bay. Specifically, suppose folks have the following two options.

  1. Surface information that increases uncertainty and ambiguity.
  2. Surface information about uncertainty and ambiguity along with its reasons and possible solutions to alleviate it.

Always encourage/nudge folks to try to pursue option 2.

Better yet, help create an environment where folks gravitate towards option 2. While creating such an environment is more about culture, it is a great way to lead more viscerally.

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Venkatesh-Prasad Ranganath

Venkatesh-Prasad Ranganath

Software Engineer / Researcher interested in software engineering, programming languages/tools, systems, and data.