Relax, It's Only Uncertainty: Lead the Way When the Way Is Changing

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Overview

In times of uncertainty, the ability to act without fear of failure can be a huge asset. In a world where the only thing you can be certain of is uncertainty, business leaders need to stop trying to control the uncontrollable, and start embracing the unknown. This book will show you how to be comfortable with ambiguity, confident with change, open to discovery and at ease with the new world of business. Then you can lead with confidence and flexibility, whatever the situation.

Want to be more confident about the ambiguities that you and your business face? Ask yourself these questions:
Am I drawn instinctively to the edge of my knowledge rather than the centre of it?
Am I attracted to projects and problems with an element of the unknown in them?
Do I have trouble with heated situations?
Will I generally take a chance and make a decision?
Do I prefer to have a full set of information before deciding?
Do I ask penetrating questions about what's going on?
Can I decide what are the most important things to do?
Can I capture a business strategy in a single sentence?

Your answers will reveal some of the essential elements of personal and corporate success in the new economy. Curiosity, risk taking, focus, persuasion and energy are personal skills that you can bring to bear to tackle tough issues, simplify complex topics, gather energy from complex challenges and carry people with you.

Relax... will help you decide intuitively, act decisively and lead through ambiguity and change. This inventive and interactive book will help you develop the behaviours lead the way when the way is changing.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Finally! A practical approach to this world of uncertainty we all inhabit. As leaders, we all know that the increasing rate of change in our environment is here to stay. What Hodgson and White offer that is new is a measured approach with real, concrete steps we can take to help us embrace and exploit change with greater creativity and confidence. Ms. Ellen McCoy, former CIO Mobil Oil"In today¿s complex and dynamic times Phil Hodgson and Randy White¿s thoughtful piece on ambiguity is a godsend. It provides as thoughtful a treatment of ambiguity as any piece of work and is of great service for anyone managing in today¿s times. I highly recommend this book." Blair H. Sheppard, President and CEO, Duke Corporate Education, Inc. "Practical, wise, insightful, varied ... this book challenges business leaders to think and behave out of the box, in the process growing their understanding that uncertainty and confusion can be faced productively and entrepreneurally." Professor Leslie Hannah, MA, DPhil, PhD, CEO of Ashridge Management College "It is often said that we live in a time of change, but what we see at present is more than that. Whole industries are in turmoil and we are faced with abandoning many of the things we have done in the past. Ambiguity is rife. This book moves the discussion on leadership in an age of uncertainty to a new level. It is alive with cases, wisdom and excellent advice" Sir Brian Pitman FCIB CIMgt, Chairman of LLoyds TSB Group plc "Intriguing - a fast ride through uncertainty and how to deal with it. White and Hodgson pack a thousand pages worth of insight and tips into this brief volume." Michael Lombardo, Lominger Ltd. "In today's world, if you are not leading change, you are not really leading. Relax It's Only Uncertainty will provide valuable insights as you meet the challenge of the future. A useful diagnostic and the practical insights of a trusted confidant of top executives are well worth the investment of a few hours of your time. Paul Hogan, Vice Chairman and Chief Risk Officer, Fleet Boston Financial Corporation. "This timely book concludes all of the arguments we have heard regarding managing and leading and places leaders exactly where they should be: permanently at the forefront of market and business innovation. The authors bring an area that we thought we always intuitively understood into clear focus and provide a framework for identifying and developing leaders who will not only drive meaningful change, but also thrive in these uncertain times." Alphonsus Keogh, Director Global Programs, Siemens AG "Relax, it¿s only uncertainty points out eight factors that block a leader¿s ability to deal with an uncertain future. One is preoccupation with the past that is known and familiar. This book is a guide and "wake up call" for anyone worried about the future of their organization ¿ whether it will keep up or get left behind. Organizations with leaders like the ones described here are much more likely to be successful. The others are heading toward tough times." Dr. Kimball Kehoe, an independent consultant in Spring, Texas

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780273652410
  • Publisher: Pearson FT Press
  • Publication date: 5/1/2001
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 1,070,804
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Phil has worked full time at Ashridge since 1983. He is co-director of the Action Learning for Chief Executives Programme, and co-director of the Executive Coaching Service. He is a major contributor to Ashridge's strategic management and leadership programmes. He is client director for organisations in healthcare, financial services, fmcg, publishing, and manufacturing. He teaches, consults, researches and writes in the areas of leadership, change, handling uncertainty, and top executive learning and development.

Before joining Ashridge, Phil worked in real jobs for nearly 15 years as a manager in a variety of service and transport industries, where he was involved in management and organisational development roles. After leaving university his first work was as a volunteer social worker in the Solomon Islands, West Pacific, and before he completely grew up, he spent some time as a software engineer. His degrees are in psychology and industrial psychology, and he is a Master Practitioner in NLP.

His earlier books are: A Practical Guide to Successful Interviewing - on assessment and interviewing techniques, published by McGraw Hill; Effective Meetings, published by Century Business for the Sunday Times; Making Change Work, published by Mercury Books. He has written two books on leadership: What High Performance Managers Really Do with Stuart Crainer, published by Pitman in 1993, looked at how leaders implement strategy. His fifth, The Future of Leadership, with Randall White and Stuart Crainer, published by Pitman in 1996, explored and researched the skills needed for effective future leadership in the face of unprecedented change and uncertainty.
Dr. Randall P. White is a principal in the Executive Development Group LLC, Greensboro, NC, and an adjunct professor at the Fuqua School of Business, Duke University.

Randy¿s work in leadership development regularly takes him to Europe, South America, and Pacific-Asia. He also teaches MBA students in the Park Fellows Leadership Program and Executive MBAs at the Johnson School, Cornell University. He is a frequent speaker for a variety of industry groups, including the Conference Board of the US and Canada, the Human Resources Planning Society, the American Society for Training & Development, and the Institute for Management Studies. He maintains an affiliation with the Center for Creative Leadership, where he spent 12 years developing programs and research on leadership. His list of current consulting clients includes M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Mobil Oil, Siemens, Aetna, ABB, Osram Sylvania, Thomson, and Kennametal.

Randy is a former board member of the American Society of Training & Development and is active on program committees of the American Psychological Association and the Academy of Management. He is a new fellow in Division 13 of APA.

Randy¿s interest in where leaders come from, how they develop, and their eventual success is borne out in his writing. As co-author of Breaking the Glass Ceiling and The Future of Leadership, he has had a major impact on the way women are viewed as leaders and the importance of less easily measured leadership skills like dealing with uncertainty. He has written in both popular and scientific outlets on leadership. He currently has a critically acclaimed piece on different types of leadership coaching (first published in the Consulting Psychologist).

He serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Leaders and Leadership and in 1997 was a Salzburg Fellow on Women¿s Issues. Randy holds an AB from Georgetown, an MS from Virginia Tech, and a Ph.D. from Cornell.

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Read an Excerpt

INTRODUCTION"If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts, but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties."

—Francis Bacon (1605) The Advancement of Learning

Welcome to uncertainty

What shall I do about that new venture? Those sales predictions? That business launch? How shall I handle that issue concerning my customer, my boss, or even my partner?

The chances are that as you are reading this you are carrying with you several decisions that you have been putting off, but will soon have to face. These decisions will no doubt be a mix of big and small, personal and work-oriented, and everything in between. Ask yourself this question: how confidently, really, are you facing up to these decisions and the actions that you will need to take? What's more, how certain do you feel about the outcomes? Do you have all the information that you need to make the decisions or will you have to take a chance and make a decision even though you aren't sure? How many of those decisions will lead to uncharted territory or uncomfortable and emotional discussions? How many of these issues are surrounded by uncertainty? ... Feeling relaxed and confident? ... We thought not!

Uncertainty causes stress, and it is difficult to be relaxed when you're feeling stressed. Yet this is the age of uncertainty. In this book we are going to propose that we, you and everyone else on the planet are facing rising levels of uncertainty in our lives. How can we cope? That is what this book is about, and we want to tackle this issue in a very pragmatic and practical way.

Start with behavior

We have spent the last ten years looking at which behaviors help people cope most effectively with uncertainty. Later in this book we describe specific behaviors and methods of learning those behaviors which help people cope with uncertainty. The behaviors have been known for millennia, but they have been known by a very small group of people who found themselves in leadership roles. To be an effective leader you need to make decisions, and often those decisions are in the face of a lot of uncertainty. The more uncertainty that surrounds a decision, the more the call for leadership. But people in leadership roles are frequently unprepared or unable to admit to the rest of the world the ambiguity they face and the feelings of uncertainty they feel as a result of that ambiguity. Indeed, it was often believed that for a leader to admit to being uncertain was an outright failure of their leadership.

But that was then and this is WOW! (Thanks, Tom Peters.) Now with the almost universal distribution of information via electronic networks, a proportion of the world's population has access to an enormous range of data. Suddenly all of us are aware of the uncertainties and ambiguities that face leaders. So what can we learn? The first part of this book will describe behaviors to cope effectively with increasing levels of ambiguity.

Leaders, leaders everywhere

But if I'm using leadership behaviors, doesn't that make me a leader? you may ask. Yes, of course. Everyone's a leader now. But surely there's a lot more to leadership than handling ambiguity? What about leadership style? What about the other skills of leadership that I have already learned? Are they all redundant now?

To be an effective leader in any context one of the main requirements is to assess the style and skills needed to be effective in that situation. In the second part of this book we help you calibrate your leadership style and the appropriate behavior needed to lead the way when the way is changing. We want to help you make sure that your behavior will fit the context.

The real work of leadership is embracing ambiguity

lf only Woody Allen's observation were true—that "80 percent of success is just showing up." Yet there seems to be a very narrow edge between certainty and uncertainty, success and failure. Leadership is what crosses the frontier between what we did yesterday and what we'll do tomorrow. We'll argue in this book that the real mark of a leader is confidence with uncertainty—the ability to admit to it and deal with it. And just to be clear, we think ambiguity is how it is, and uncertainty is how you feel about it. So the effective leader is always coping with his or her own feelings of uncertainty in the face of ambiguity.

As we researched this book, we uncovered a lot of evidence showing that an enormous proportion of leadership development is done through early experience and in our everyday lives. This suggests that some of the behaviors that people use in leadership roles were not always consciously learned,but picked up along the way as they met and coped with various life experiences. Some had even unwittingly been schooling themselves for leadership roles and preparing themselves for the necessary costs and sacrifices they would be required to make to achieve a position of leadership. How then can we offer to teach more appropriate behaviors?

We discovered that it is not necessary to have gone through all those experiences to acquire behaviors relevant to coping with ambiguity and to feeling more relaxed about the uncertainty it produces. We've borrowed from the extensive research in leadership, and we've added our own views bolstered by talking to people in roles with considerable ambiguity and uncertainty. We've also constructed questionnaires and surveys, completed structured interviews, and applied vast numbers of mindnumbing statistical techniques to the data to be sure that the behavioral analysis we offer in Chapters 3 and 4 are not only psychologically sound, but statistically significant.

Where are the role models?

Wouldn't it be nice if life were like a "feel-good" movie? You know that in the early parts of the film our hero or heroine will go through all kinds of trials and difficulties, but by the end of the last reel things will work out fine. Oh, if only ... In a book on uncertainty we certainly can't promise you a happy ending every time! But what we can offer is a helping hand. By following our analysis of uncertain situations and the behavior that works with them, we believe that you can handle uncertainty more effectively.

This book offers three ways that you can be more relaxed in handling the uncertainty you feel when facing life's ambiguities. First, we've identified the key skills and capabilities—and most of the important behaviors that go with them—that help people relax when handling their uncertainty. We'll then describe some very practical ways that you can enhance your ability with those particular behaviors and thus develop your competence in those areas. Finally, we'll show you how to assess the leadership context in which you find yourself and how to choose and use appropriate behaviors to match that context.

Why relax?

With more choice and greater ambiguity in our lives, the rules that used to help us understand and operate in our world no longer seem to apply. We need behaviors that work in a rule-changing—maybe even a rule-free—world. Not only this, but have you noticed how the best athletes, the best artists, arguably the best performers at anything, work well in a relaxed state? The world calls for higher and higher performance in whatever field you operate. How will you achieve that in your life without being relaxed? Relaxation is preparation for high performance. But it is not a relaxation of ignoring the issues or abandoning the problems and not making the best use of all available information. Instead, it's a relaxation that recognizes that ambiguity is a place where opportunity lives. The people who can move toward the ambiguity conquer their feelings of uncertainty and are relaxed enough to achieve the highest performance.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments.

Prologue.

Introduction.

Welcome to uncertainty. Start with behavior. Leaders, leaders everywhere. The real work of leadership is embracing ambiguity. Where are the role models? Why relax?

1. How old is new?

It's what you do, not what you meant to do. Who are we writing for? Finding answers to the questions. Send in the metaphors. Two kinds of ambiguity and uncertainty. The real work of leadership.

2. The real change saloon.

Damaging illusions from the twentieth century. The ABCs of enhancement. The MBE of action.

3. What are Enablers?

What does each Enabler do? Are some Enablers more important than others?

Enabler 1. Motivated by mysteries.

Motivated by what? Mystery-Seekers are. Signs of Mystery-Seekers. Case study. What happens if no one is motivated by mysteries? Difficult learning. Links with other Enablers. How to be more motivated by mysteries. Explore and expand.

Enabler 2. Be risk tolerant.

What is risk? Risk-Tolerators are. Signs of Risk-Tolerators. Case study. What happens if no one wants to tolerate risk? Links with other Enablers. How to be more risk tolerant. Explore and expand.

Enabler 3. Scan ahead.

Polish up your personal radar. Future-Scanners are. Signs of Future-Scanners. Futurists. Deep drillers. Case study. What happens if no one scans ahead? Where's the vision? How to enhance your future-scanning. Explore and expand.

Enabler 4. Tackle tough issues.

It isn't interesting if it isn't challenging. Tenacious Challengers are. Signs of Tenacious Challengers. Motivated by challenge. Tenacious. Case study. What happens when no one wants to tackle tough issues? Links with other Enablers. How to enhance your ability to tackle tough issues. Explore and expand.

Enabler 5. Create excitement.

Who's having fun? Exciters are. Signs of Exciters. Enthusiastic. Invigorating. Case study. What happens when no one creates excitement? Links with other Enablers. How to create more excitement. Explore and expand.

Enabler 6. Be flexible.

Flexible Adjusters are not rigid. Flexible Adjusters are. Signs of Flexible Adjusters. Making on-line adjustments. Sell change. Case study. What happens when no one is flexible? Links with other Enablers. How to be more flexible. Explore and expand.

Enabler 7. Be a simplifier.

Making the complex simple. Simplifiers are. Signs of Simplifiers. Essence detectors. Clarifiers. Interpreters. Case study. What happens when no one acts as a Simplifier? Links with other Enablers. How to be a better Simplifier. Explore and expand.

Enabler 8. Be focused.

What won't we do today? Focusers are. Signs of Focusers. Case study. What happens when no one focuses? Links with other Enablers. How to be better focused. Explore and expand.

4. What are Restrainers?

How can I find out how well I am doing?

Restrainer 1. Having trouble with transitions.

What problems will being a Poor Transitioner bring me? Poor Transitioners are Signs of Poor Transitioners. Case study. How to become better at managing transitions. Explore and expand.

Restrainer 2. Not motivated by work.

Are you a Wet Blanket? Wet Blankets are. Signs of Wet Blankets. Case study. How to throw off the Wet Blanket. Explore and expand.

Restrainer 3. Fear of conflict.

Do you avoid conflict? Conflict-Avoiders are. Signs of Conflict-Avoiders. Case study. How conflict avoidance reduces effectiveness. How to reduce your aversion to conflict. Explore and expand. Introduction to Restrainers 4 and 5. Who did you confuse today - yourself or someone else?

Restrainer 4. Muddy thinking.

You may be confusing yourself. Muddy Thinkers are. Signs of Muddy Thinkers. Case study. Get rid of the mud! Explore and expand.

Restrainer 5. Complex communication.

Did you confuse someone else today? Complex Communicators are. Signs of Complex Communicators. Case study. How to make the complex seem simple. Explore and expand.

Introduction to Restrainers 6 and 7.

Did I miss something?

Restrainer 6. Hooked on detail.

Could you be more precise, please? Detail Junkies are. Signs of Detail Junkies. Case study. How to treat the Detail Junkie habit. Explore and expand.

Restrainer 7. Narrow-band thinking.

Why didn't I think of that? Narrow Thinkers are. Signs of Narrow Thinkers. Case study. What to do about narrow thinking. Explore and expand.

Restrainer 8. Tethered to the past.

How good and how old were the “good old days?” Repeaters are. Signs of Repeaters. Case study. How not to become too tethered to the past. Explore and expand.

5. Leadership—the ne(x)t generation.

How will more leadership theory help me? Take me to your leader. Leaders were born, but now they're grown. War Office WOSBIES. The task and the people. Situational solutions. I have a dream. A new leadership style—learning leadership. Beam me up, Scotty. Toward a comprehensive leadership map. Do leaders manage or do managers lead?

6. Field notes from the front line.

The uncertainty of the new. The responsibility of the new.

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Preface

INTRODUCTION

"If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts, but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties."

—Francis Bacon (1605) The Advancement of Learning

Welcome to uncertainty

What shall I do about that new venture? Those sales predictions? That business launch? How shall I handle that issue concerning my customer, my boss, or even my partner?

The chances are that as you are reading this you are carrying with you several decisions that you have been putting off, but will soon have to face. These decisions will no doubt be a mix of big and small, personal and work-oriented, and everything in between. Ask yourself this question: how confidently, really, are you facing up to these decisions and the actions that you will need to take? What's more, how certain do you feel about the outcomes? Do you have all the information that you need to make the decisions or will you have to take a chance and make a decision even though you aren't sure? How many of those decisions will lead to uncharted territory or uncomfortable and emotional discussions? How many of these issues are surrounded by uncertainty? ... Feeling relaxed and confident? ... We thought not!

Uncertainty causes stress, and it is difficult to be relaxed when you're feeling stressed. Yet this is the age of uncertainty. In this book we are going to propose that we, you and everyone else on the planet are facing rising levels of uncertainty in our lives. How can we cope? That is what this book is about, and we want to tackle this issue in a very pragmatic and practical way.

Start with behavior

We have spent the last ten years looking at which behaviors help people cope most effectively with uncertainty. Later in this book we describe specific behaviors and methods of learning those behaviors which help people cope with uncertainty. The behaviors have been known for millennia, but they have been known by a very small group of people who found themselves in leadership roles. To be an effective leader you need to make decisions, and often those decisions are in the face of a lot of uncertainty. The more uncertainty that surrounds a decision, the more the call for leadership. But people in leadership roles are frequently unprepared or unable to admit to the rest of the world the ambiguity they face and the feelings of uncertainty they feel as a result of that ambiguity. Indeed, it was often believed that for a leader to admit to being uncertain was an outright failure of their leadership.

But that was then and this is WOW! (Thanks, Tom Peters.) Now with the almost universal distribution of information via electronic networks, a proportion of the world's population has access to an enormous range of data. Suddenly all of us are aware of the uncertainties and ambiguities that face leaders. So what can we learn? The first part of this book will describe behaviors to cope effectively with increasing levels of ambiguity.

Leaders, leaders everywhere

But if I'm using leadership behaviors, doesn't that make me a leader? you may ask. Yes, of course. Everyone's a leader now. But surely there's a lot more to leadership than handling ambiguity? What about leadership style? What about the other skills of leadership that I have already learned? Are they all redundant now?

To be an effective leader in any context one of the main requirements is to assess the style and skills needed to be effective in that situation. In the second part of this book we help you calibrate your leadership style and the appropriate behavior needed to lead the way when the way is changing. We want to help you make sure that your behavior will fit the context.

The real work of leadership is embracing ambiguity

lf only Woody Allen's observation were true—that "80 percent of success is just showing up." Yet there seems to be a very narrow edge between certainty and uncertainty, success and failure. Leadership is what crosses the frontier between what we did yesterday and what we'll do tomorrow. We'll argue in this book that the real mark of a leader is confidence with uncertainty—the ability to admit to it and deal with it. And just to be clear, we think ambiguity is how it is, and uncertainty is how you feel about it. So the effective leader is always coping with his or her own feelings of uncertainty in the face of ambiguity.

As we researched this book, we uncovered a lot of evidence showing that an enormous proportion of leadership development is done through early experience and in our everyday lives. This suggests that some of the behaviors that people use in leadership roles were not always consciously learned,but picked up along the way as they met and coped with various life experiences. Some had even unwittingly been schooling themselves for leadership roles and preparing themselves for the necessary costs and sacrifices they would be required to make to achieve a position of leadership. How then can we offer to teach more appropriate behaviors?

We discovered that it is not necessary to have gone through all those experiences to acquire behaviors relevant to coping with ambiguity and to feeling more relaxed about the uncertainty it produces. We've borrowed from the extensive research in leadership, and we've added our own views bolstered by talking to people in roles with considerable ambiguity and uncertainty. We've also constructed questionnaires and surveys, completed structured interviews, and applied vast numbers of mindnumbing statistical techniques to the data to be sure that the behavioral analysis we offer in Chapters 3 and 4 are not only psychologically sound, but statistically significant.

Where are the role models?

Wouldn't it be nice if life were like a "feel-good" movie? You know that in the early parts of the film our hero or heroine will go through all kinds of trials and difficulties, but by the end of the last reel things will work out fine. Oh, if only ... In a book on uncertainty we certainly can't promise you a happy ending every time! But what we can offer is a helping hand. By following our analysis of uncertain situations and the behavior that works with them, we believe that you can handle uncertainty more effectively.

This book offers three ways that you can be more relaxed in handling the uncertainty you feel when facing life's ambiguities. First, we've identified the key skills and capabilities—and most of the important behaviors that go with them—that help people relax when handling their uncertainty. We'll then describe some very practical ways that you can enhance your ability with those particular behaviors and thus develop your competence in those areas. Finally, we'll show you how to assess the leadership context in which you find yourself and how to choose and use appropriate behaviors to match that context.

Why relax?

With more choice and greater ambiguity in our lives, the rules that used to help us understand and operate in our world no longer seem to apply. We need behaviors that work in a rule-changing—maybe even a rule-free—world. Not only this, but have you noticed how the best athletes, the best artists, arguably the best performers at anything, work well in a relaxed state? The world calls for higher and higher performance in whatever field you operate. How will you achieve that in your life without being relaxed? Relaxation is preparation for high performance. But it is not a relaxation of ignoring the issues or abandoning the problems and not making the best use of all available information. Instead, it's a relaxation that recognizes that ambiguity is a place where opportunity lives. The people who can move toward the ambiguity conquer their feelings of uncertainty and are relaxed enough to achieve the highest performance.

Read More Show Less

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 7, 2004

    Packed With Knowledge!

    Philip Hodgson and Randall P. White provide practical instructions for dealing with change, as all leaders must. Rather than assuming that only certain personality types and traits are suitable for leadership in changing times, they addresses the behavior patterns that mark a successful leader. The authors place their behavioral concepts in a familiar context with case histories. The true value of their book lies in specific exercises that will enhance your ambiguity-coping skills. Some level-headed readers may be slightly put off by the seeming wackiness of some of these notions (they range from ¿spend some time around children¿ to ¿analyze how you spend your time¿) and the light-hearted tone (they do refer to Star Trek). Lighthearted or not, the advice in this book may just save your job ¿ or your company¿s future. We recommend this book to senior executives, regardless of industry, as well as to anyone who is concerned about the fast pace of change and wants some help keeping up.

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