“Ambiguity” — may be the largest force in the entrepreneur’s life and ecosystem. Funding, customers, product development — all beyond the control of the entrepreneur. The ability to handle ambiguity is a factor that I’ve encountered again and again in not only startups, but in real life, particularly the harsh environment of the emergency first responder.
Incomplete data, incomplete facts, partially completed product, inconclusive market data, partial context… limited time… what do you do? Is this a threat? An opportunity? A distraction best ignored?
And as a leader, is this “business as usual” or does the environment shake you to your core? render you frozen with indecision… Is ambiguity “comfortable” or at least familiar?
Is ambiguity your friend, or your foe?
In any uncertain situation whether business, or a traffic accident, I believe it is essential that the leader, or a leadership team, be comfortable with ambiguity. So how do you spot this rare animal in a leader (or potential leader)?
Use the test here: http://jasonseiden.com/handling-ambiguity/ because his simple tests… resonate with my experience:
- Comfort with unclear social settings
- Intellectually curious
- Strong and demonstrable “action orientation”
- Good judgment
I couldn’t agree more. Time and again I’ve found that leaders with those qualities/attributes… do fine with ambiguity. And leaders not “comfortable” (an odd word, in this context) with ambiguity… they’ll drive themselves nutty, or at least their families. Been there, done that.
Don’t have what it takes? Don’t fret… it probably means your normal. The ability to handle ambiguity, while “impressive” in the abstract, isn’t “normal” — in fact, these leaders can be hard to live with, hard to follow, hard to understand. Don’t believe Hollywood’s projection of a leader… just because your leader is comfortable with ambiguity doesn’t mean they’re right. Or easy to follow. You may be a top performer in the leadership team precisely because you are not comfortable with ambiguity.
Most high performance teams need a combination of leaders comfortable with ambiguity, and members of the leadership team that insist on unambiguous decisions and stratetgy — wisdom and superior execution are a complicated combination of both perspectives.