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Are You Dealing with Complexity, Ambiguity and Uncertainty? Join the Club.

April 8, 2013

IMG_1441There is a saying here at my company: we like to see managers get “bloodied up a bit” before moving them into more prominent leadership roles.

If we believe someone has management potential, we will intentionally put them in a situation where they will encounter extreme conflict, opposition, or just plain ambiguity (which in and of itself can be very stressful). Then we will watch closely to see how the candidate responds.

How will they handle an impossible situation where there is no right or wrong answer, but a decision has to be made?

How will they manage conflict and difficult personalities?

How will they weather through a thorny issue that may take a year or two to work its way through to resolution?

Our hope is that the painful, difficult experiences will help mature the person in question, and that through the experience they will gain wisdom, as well as a measure of trust and respect from both the executives and their peers.

It’s counter-intuitive, but sometimes the best thing to help us grow is to be put into a really difficult, challenging situation. God does this to me all the time. He doesn’t care what I think,  because he knows better. He sees my potential, way beyond what I think I’m capable of.

I picture Him, rubbing his hands together with this glint in his eyes as he gathers the archangels around him, saying, “Hey guys – check it out: This Mr. Wood here is getting far too comfortable. Let’s beat the crap out of him for a while. He’ll thank me later.”

If these experiences don’t do you in, they usually provide an excellent opportunity to grow in maturity and stamina. In my company’s case, it also allows the prospective manager to experience the practical realities of leadership, with all the messy employee issues and market chaos and unexpected crap hitting the fan. And we can’t really trust a manager to make major decisions or handle significant responsibilities without having observed them live through some of these situations, and eventually coming out the other side in tact.

I don’t know why the difficult, gut-wrenching experiences are so crucial, other than they somehow test us – our will, our strength – and humble us at the same time. And that’s how we grow in wisdom and confidence.

Now, there’s a great formula for leadership: wisdom, confidence, and humility.

Will you also feel like you got beat up a little along the way? Sure you will.

Join the club.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. sawyerspeaks permalink
    April 8, 2013 10:17 am

    Well said! “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.”
    – Albert Camus

  2. April 12, 2013 5:22 am

    Jim, great stuff here! That 1) makes me feel better about my current leadership role and 2) gives my directs a bit of confidence the next time they face organizational resistance, etc.

  3. April 12, 2013 9:07 am

    I am curious about any differences you find in the way men and women handle these events.

    • April 15, 2013 6:48 pm

      Good question, Tammy. While I would guess that women handle ambiguity and on-the-job stress better than men, I also would bet that everyone ( both m & W,) struggles when they feel the anxiety of the unknown against the expectation of performance.

  4. DB Taggart permalink
    April 15, 2013 8:03 am

    Mr. Wood:
    What was your “coming of age” situation and how well did you handle it?

    • April 15, 2013 6:50 pm

      I freaked out, that’s how I handled it. And then I rallied and lived through it. Probably how we all deal with that kind of thing.

  5. April 16, 2013 9:47 am

    That’s kinda sadistic in one sense, but really brilliant in another.
    After all, James says that we should rejoice when we go through trials because they give us perseverance.

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