Leading in Uncertain Times
Uncertainty is not a Threat: It is Creative and Powerful
My question is how organizations can lead us not toward some predictable goal, but toward a greater and greater capacity to handle unpredictability, and with it, a greater capacity to love and care about other people. ~Margaret Wheatley
Margaret Wheatley, one of the most prescient of systems thinkers and organization development writers, wrote this twenty years ago in her article, It Starts with Uncertainty. It is even more relevant and true today as uncertainty and unpredictability become a way of life. We are striving to make sense of a world that is spinning out of control. To thrive, i.e., to go beyond mere survival, desperation, fear, and helplessness, we need to foster and cultivate very different capacities in ourselves and in our organizations. I have been writing about developing these capacities in my previous articles: Facilitating Emergence and Sensemaking in Organizations, Reinventing Organizational Learning, and Six Enablers of Emergent Learning.
It is of paramount importance for organizations to build these core capacities to handle unpredictability and lean into ambiguity — to become platforms and containers for the future to manifest itself. Organizations and workplaces play an important role in our lives — and not just as a means to earn a monthly paycheck. I do believe that we infuse our lives with meaning when we do work that matters — where we contribute with our gifts from our higher Self, where our contributions are needed, and we are “paid” for it. I use “paid” in a broader and deeper sense beyond monetary payment, which is definitely important and must be fair. However, I also mean payment to mean a sense of fulfillment, the ability to achieve mastery, the opportunities to co-create meaningful outcomes with others, to be part of a community of passionate individuals, and to move toward a shared purpose. When work becomes this joyful, it becomes regenerative and healing.
Unfortunately, most organizations today are still operating from the old paradigms of command, control, planning, predicting, managing… The more volatile and complex the world becomes, the greater is the tendency to clamp down with more control. We are unable to let go and embrace uncertainty. But this is the fundamental leadership skill necessary to build thrivable, regenerative, meaningful organizations. And this can only…