December 14, 2021

Adopt Three Roles to Navigate Uncertainty in the New Year

Think about what role will create more certainty in your life as you navigate different dynamics in the new year. Consider whether the process of discovery, creating structure, or improvising with a good attitude provide you with the sense of confidence you need to succeed.

If the last two years taught us nothing else, we learned that life is full of uncertainty. The good news is that the straight line to success is actually crooked. So how do we navigate the crooked road? If you start by accepting that the one constant in life will be the amount of change you’ll endure, uncertainty can be invigorating. 

This week’s Pathway Countdown feature is number six:

NAVIGATE UNCERTAINTY

One of the best ways to invigorate your approach is to think in terms of the following roles.

Be a Scientist 

I love it when employees ask me questions like “How do I stand out to my leaders?” or “What qualities are most important in a team member?” They’re applying an important rule of living with uncertainty: discovery. When I don’t know the answer, I pull people together to discuss the matter. I take an inventory of the thoughts, objections, and agreements, so I come away with much greater certainty than where I started. 

Scientists apply the same principle when they test a theory in unfamiliar circumstances. They try to minimize the unknown by taking measurements and increasing sample sizes. You can do the same by sampling your colleagues for their ideas and opinions. Don’t forget to consult people outside of your circle to secure diverse opinions and reduce unconscious bias.

Be an Architect

You have to create certainty where there’s none to be had. You have to build structure into your work life where it doesn’t exist. What often creates anxiety around uncertainty is lack of structure or consistency. I’m most like an architect when I take on a new position. What calms my nerves about performing my best are the structural elements I put into place. When people ask about leading in a new environment, I tell them to canvass their surroundings and gather context before establishing systems and routines.  

Architects must do the same. They seek to understand the composition of the ground and environmental factors before choosing materials. What will be your materials of choice? I like my Sunday-afternoon “alignment check-in” to review the week ahead and be sure I’m doing what reinforces my why. If you’ve watched my weekly video installments, you know that I also like early mornings to reflect on my goals each day. Together, these structural routines form consistency and stability in a changing environment. 

Be an Improv Actor

Improv actors work with what they have. They make the most of the circumstances and innovate with their colleagues as they receive incremental input. This is where I can’t help but mention attitude and effort (pathway five). If I were to answer the question I mentioned earlier about what qualities are most important in a leader, attitude and effort would be in the top three. 

You can’t be great at improv unless you’re willing to put forth your best effort, and that requires a great attitude. Perhaps your fears about uncertainty are that you won’t have what you’re used to and that it will require some discomfort. 

Research tells us that we actually get more creative and better at finding solutions when our resources are limited. “The next time you struggle with innovation, take a look at your constraints structure. Instead of blaming the constraints, frame them as creative challenges. Tell your employees that constraints help by ensuring focus and direction, and ask them to take up the challenge,” says Oguz Acar, associate professor at City University of London.

There are many other roles besides scientist, architect, and improv actor that can help you with uncertainty, but their qualities have helped me take center stage confidently despite many unknowns. Adopt Acar’s philosophy and explore viewing your constraints as creative challenges. 

Think about what role will create more certainty in your life as you navigate different dynamics in the new year. Consider whether the process of discovery, creating structure, or improvising with a good attitude provide you with the sense of confidence you need to succeed.

Live your why.

Steve

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