Leading Through Uncertainty: Dealing with Ambiguity

4 min read | Erin Defoyd

LW: Leading Through Uncertainty: Dealing with Ambiguity

We are continuing our current blog series on the core leadership competencies needed to navigate change. Change that is defined as volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA). So far we’ve covered “Interpersonal Savvy” and “Organizational Agility” - and today we are digging into “Dealing with Ambiguity.” 

“Ambiguity is a type of meaning in which a phrase, statement or resolution is not explicitly defined, making several interpretations plausible. A common aspect of ambiguity is uncertainty.”

Uncertainty -- hmmmm -- sound familiar? We are surrounded by so many uncertainties right now! However, we know that not all ambiguity is environmental. Ambiguity comes in several forms in the workplace. The issue arises from a lack of direction and clearly defined roles. The problem can result from the business itself or from specific managers who fail to implement the direction and roles associated with their job. It can also be cultural, or a product of barriers in understanding inclusive behaviors. 

Leaders who are able to deal with ambiguity can effectively cope with change, shift gears comfortably, decide and act without having the total picture, and are able to navigate risk and uncertainty. Those with a strong ability to deal with ambiguity are often described as adaptable, flexible, and comfortable with uncertainty. They can operate with confidence to make decisions or move forward, even without all the information, because they have built their understanding of the business (acumen) and are confident in taking a calculated risk (See Leading Women’s infographic on confidence).

When dealing with ambiguous situations you need to have a firm foundation in the business and see that there may be more than one solution to a problem. You need to be able to adapt in circumstances where you may have already come to a conclusion, but the situation changed again, before you could act on it. Leaders who excel in this competency don’t let this rattle them -- they remain calm. And they are often, too, described as innovative and inclusive leaders.

Here are a 5 ways you can strengthen your ability to deal with ambiguity:

  1. Manage your time and stress -- so that you can demonstrate patience when confronted with change, confusion and frustrations that often occur when dealing with ambiguity.
  2. Rely on your Interpersonal skills -- strong relationships and communication are key in the face of uncertainty.
  3. Don’t be afraid to be creative - thinking outside the box, and relying on many of the skills we discussed in our “Organizational Agility” blog may open new doors or pathways to ideas and solutions.
  4. Beware of stereotypes and improve Gender Dynamics - awareness and shifting of mindsets related to the women, men, and leaders with whom you work will help you see and appreciate the inputs and ideas from those you are working with.
  5. Embrace ambiguity - use these opportunities to LEAD ON!

“Leadership is using the greatness in you, to achieve and sustain extraordinary outcomes while engaging the greatness of others.”

Lead ON!

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Read ON! 

Part 1: LEADERSHIP at the pace of Global Change...

Part 2: Interpersonal Savvy... What You Need to Lead!

Part 3: Organizational Agility: Getting “It” Done

Part 4: Leading Through Uncertainty: Dealing with Ambiguity

Part 5: Managing Complexity: The Up Close & Wider View

Part 6: Navigating Change with Resiliency