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Handling ambiguity more effectively through leadership

"Coach Kriengsak, I want my leadership team to deal with ambiguity more effectively," Don tells me.

“Khun Don, what prompted you to ask me about this?”

“The dynamics of change get a lot more unpredictable every day. But I keep asking myself why Thai people are not comfortable with ambiguity.”

“Khun Don, I don’t think Thais are the only people who are uncomfortable with ambiguity. So are the majority of human beings.”

“You’re right.”

“How effective do you think your team members are in terms of dealing with ambiguity, on a scale of one to 10?”

“I would rate them a 5 but I want them to be at 8.”

“Okay, what do you need to do to get them there?”

“I think there are two elements: attitude and action.”

“That’s good Khun Don. What is the attitude of people who are dealing effectively with ambiguity?”

“Coach, the first thing is to accept that this is a fact of life. As Lord Buddha taught over 2,500 years ago: ‘There are three characteristics common to all things, namely impermanence or change (anicca), unsatisfactoriness or suffering (dukkha), and non-selfhood or insubstantiality (anattaa).’

“In this context, we are talking about anicca: all things have the property of changing incessantly; they are unstable. Change leads to uncertainty. Hence, ambiguity is inevitable.”

“That’s a good start, Khun Don. Once we have the right mindset, what’s next?”

“Next are the actions. Here are the ones I believe are needed:

l  Negative first, then positive later: What I mean is that we have to be good at risk management. We have to anticipate different scenarios in the future. That leads to the next topic.

l  Scenario planning: Most people plan by using the past and modify only a few numbers. But tomorrow’s world will not be the same as yesterday’s. Hence, you cannot have only one plan. Some people plan by anticipating three scenarios: base case, best case, and worst case. Each scenario requires different kinds of actions. So you have to invest time and effort in this process. To do that well you need the next action.

l  Use collective wisdom: Our workplace is full of knowledge workers. They produce information for each other. If you can find a way to integrate this collective wisdom, you have a better chance to paint a picture for the future. The problem is the silo attitude that lot of people still hold. They have to have an entrepreneurial mindset. Instead of asking which department is responsible for something, ask ‘How may I help?’

l  Make decisions based on incomplete information: Sometimes, you will encounter an urgent situation where now is not the time to wait until you have enough information. You have to be able to make a judgement call with what you have at hand. This will make lot of people uncomfortable because they afraid of making the wrong decision. The right mindset is that making the wrong decision is part of the process.

l  Adapt while you perform: In the world of ambiguity, you have less chance to predict the future. Chances are that your action may not suit the situation. The key is to be more flexible. You have to be strong in your core principles but flexible in your actions. A good metaphor is a square surrounded by a circle.

l  No more losing face: You cannot worry about losing face from making a mistake. You have to have great courage to admit that you’re wrong when mistakes occur, and then move on. Defending your ego to save face is the sign of a weak leader.

l  Be ‘present’ when performing: If you spend enough time and effort absorbing collective wisdom, you should be okay when you implement the plan. Hence, you have to stay ‘in the present’. Be now, be mindful. Concentrate on the moment — don’t worry about the future.

l  Be mature: A lot of people don’t realise how essential this is. They will blame others when things go wrong. Don’t join the parade. You have to be mature. Ignore others’ immaturity. Don’t try to defend your ego. Listen to others and try to find out the solution. You’re part of the problem if you blame the others. And you will be part of the solution if you take the initiative to solve the problem.”

“Khun Don, that’s impressive. What concerns do you have about this approach?”

“Coach, how do I make this happen?”

“What do you think?”

“One step at a time, I guess. Create awareness first and then implement the behavioural change later.”

“Who will be your brother in arms for this crusade?”

“I think the head of HR.”

“What could go wrong?”

“Other senior executives might perceive that this is an HR initiative. Hmm, on second thought, I will have to ensure that all my leadership team are engaged and involved from the beginning.”

Kriengsak Niratpattanasai provides executive coaching in leadership and diversity management under TheCoach brand. He can be reached at Daily inspirational quotations can be found on his Facebook fan page: Previous articles are archived at