How Leaders interject uncertainty into their organizations

One of the essential tasks of leadership is to establish the organization’s priorities. This is strategic task of defining purpose, mission, and priorities.

A second essential leadership task is to manage towards those priorities. This done through the steps of setting objectives, strategies, action plans and subsequently monitoring progress. The role management is to ensure that there is implementation, and followthrough.

From another perspective on the focus of leadership is in the PDCA cycle they are active in the P and C phases and monitor congruence (D to P and A to C).

From this line of reasoning, we can end up with the conclusion that operational management is the task of dealing with risks primarily through variance management. Leadership sets the course, and does the more macro navigation along the way.

So how does leadership interject uncertainty into the organization?

First, during the P phase:

Establishing priorities is the act of saying yes to one thing and no to a thousand other possibilities. This act establishes what organizational effectiveness will look like, i.e., “the right thing to do”. The act of much more exclusion to that of inclusion means there is the opportunity to “bet on the wrong” horse so to speak. The supposed right thing ends up looking much more like the wrong thing. This is the first critical window for introducing uncertainty.

A second window is that of poor performance in engaging in the act of setting priorities. many have witnessed the havoc of created by poor priority setting and establishment. people in all good faith end up going off in different, competing, and contradictory directions.

The uncertainty being introduced then is extending ourselves in the wrong directions such that we are vulnerable to “shocks” because: we are on the wrong course to begin with; and/or we are wasting or efforts in confusion getting there (wherever there is).

Second, during the D phase:

This is the phase where it is critical for those charged with implementation are focused on the task. The single greatest way to introduce uncertainty is to create and allow distractions to occur. Great performance always involves focus (as well as other key elements such as clarity around priorities, skills, and engagement in doing well). Common internally generated distractions include politics, poor supporting organizational forms, poor performance management, poor work processes, etc. When people have to pay undue attention to what is going on around them they are directing energy and effort away from the priority tasks. Leadership is responsible for the context that performance takes place.

Uncertainty is introduced because we are blinded by our distractions to where we are heading and the pitfalls that may arise from this. Part of this blindness is due to that consequence of being inward focused at the expense of being outward focused.

Third, during the C phase: 

What gets checked, how it gets checked and how this information gets used can introduce further uncertainty. Any culture that uses information to “blame” will engender a culture of hiding the truth about how we are doing. At the very least, will encourage “delays” in getting critical insights to those who need them to act appropriately. Hiding the truth means we are blinding ourselves. Delaying the vital and useful information is denying ourselves the ability to do the next step (A) most effectively and efficiently. The first act of commission is ensuring we will be shocked; the second act will ensure we cannot manage our exposure (to the negative consequences) and/or take advantage of the opportunities (positive consequences).

Fourth:, during the A phase:

Here leadership can “recommit” some of the uncertainty inducing acts that it did during the P to D phases.

Why would anyone knowingly and willingly commit such self-inflicting increasing uncertainty to their lives?

  • Is it a skill issue?  They are aware but are not very good at dealing with these issues.
  • Is it a know what to do issue? They are at a loss about what else they could do anyway issue.
  • Is it a “I don’t even get this!” issue? They have conceptual and/or comprehension gaps about uncertainty and their actions connection to potential exposures.
  • Is it a I don’t care issue? By the time the consequences “hit” they are safe on figurative/literal high ground.
  • ?

The first and second possibilities may be resolved through leadership 9personal – team based) development efforts.

The third and fourth possibilities are more about how and who do we move into these roles. Putting people who do not have the mental and cognitive capabilities is disturbing. Having people in these roles who at the end of the day will “transfer the liabilities” of their moral values (sic) is appalling.



About 123stilllearning456

As a management consultant I am passionately interested in talent management and risk/uncertainty issues. In the area of talent management I propose that we seek strategies that look beyond the staffing/employee centric frames of reference. I have been frustrated at the "closing down on possibilities" by these more conventional staffing/employee centric approaches. I have been impressed where people have found systematic solutions to their talent management issues by going beyond the conventional approaches. In the area of risk and uncertainty, I am interested in making this topic relevant to more normal decision making situations. My conceptual foundation is to use the micro-economist's fixed/variable cost theme. I also think it is important to look at these issues for people through their emotional and psychological lens. As a premise I think risk and uncertainty only exist where there is a person who cares about possible events and its consequences. Hence, risk and uncertainty are social based concepts (no sentience, no risk and uncertainty). A major influence on my thinking in this area is Nassim Taleb of "Black Swan" fame. This BLOG provides me with an opportunity to express my thoughts on topics that interest me. As this is an online diary, content is more important to me than polish. I apologize if this distracts from readers' enjoyment and learning. Still I find this a useful way to live up to my namesake, learn more from others and hopefully provoke creative thoughts and ideas in others.
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