The uncertain and the unknown
Uncertainty and the unknown: scary, unsettling, unpredictable. Or exciting, challenging, offering the potential for growth. Which ever camp you’re in, you’ll know that uncertainty and the unknown are constant phenomena in organisational life.
Transition – which organisations and senior people find themselves in every day, in one sense or another – means moving from familiarity, and at least a degree of predictability, to the uncertain and the unknown – and also to a fresh opportunity to step up, and to be more creative and versatile.
Uncertainty is an inevitable part of both our personal lives and our organisational lives. We need to come to terms with it, find creative ways of working with it, and mould our relationship to it so that it works for us.
Awareness and understanding: know yourself
Self-awareness, self-understanding, and awareness of the systems we’re part of give us a foundation of ‘the known’ in a context where much may be unknown. This, in turn, can give us a greater sense of safety and agency.
Leaders and others who are self-aware know their values, their purpose, and their motivations. They are aware of their emotions, and the effect of those emotions on their thinking and their behaviour, and they will have learnt how to manage these emotions so that their thinking and their behaviour are productive. They’re aware of what enables, and what inhibits, their best work.
They often know how to be ‘in flow’, which nourishes them. They understand how to manage themselves so that they are inspiring leaders of others. They tend not to allow their own behaviour to take them by surprise or to trip themselves up with unmanageable emotions.
All this helps to build a firm and reliable platform that is strengthening and resourcing.
Strategies for facing the unknown
The effectiveness with which we raise and maintain our awareness is directly proportionate to the effectiveness of our thinking and thus of our behaviour – and both our thinking and our behaviour are influenced by our emotions. Equally, our emotions are influenced by our thinking and our behaviour. Well-managed emotions can steer us safely through a storm (and into harbour), while emotions that are running wild can blow us off course and take us, and our teams, somewhere we never intended to go and over which we have inadequate influence.
Get to know your thinking patterns
Exploring our thinking patterns – and particularly the assumptions and judgments that are so easy to mistake for reality – can illuminate the motivations behind our behaviour. This can provide sharper clarity on what is driving us, and therefore clearer options for that behaviour.
This way we get to know ourselves better – and we know better what we can count on ourselves for, so we expand the territory of the known.
Equally, understanding what and who are influencing us can help reduce uncertainty. This includes identifying long-established loyalties to ideas, people and well-trodden paths, some of which may serve us, and some of which may be outdated.
That understanding can help to give us a sense of mastery when our response to uncertainty might otherwise leave us feeling depleted and helpless.
Acceptance of what is
When we’re fearful of the unknown, it can be useful to remember that it is the ‘now’ which will always become known. Whatever is, is. Acknowledging and accepting that saves energy and creates a greater sense of calm and ease, which in turn allows better-quality thinking to emerge.
The acceptance of what is – acceptance of the now – is perhaps the most powerful source of calm in the turbulence of uncertainty. Mindfulness – awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally, according to Jon Kabat-Zinn – encourages focus and distances us from distracting thoughts and emotions. Not only is it calming, but it also nurtures a quiet confidence in the present moment.
Uncertainty and the unknown will continue infinitely, but they can be managed and mastered – and may even become positives.