With much room for doubt
In companies (and in life) we like certainties. We want to know how much we are going to earn, that a certain product launch is going to go well, or that a new digital business unit will be a success. However, how much knowledge do we have of these future events? Could we improve our business if we were not always so sure of everything?
The prototype of the traditional leader with whom we have learned is that of a person who knows everything, who acts in seconds, almost without thinking. They have the answers to the questions of their collaborators, and they communicate them with confidence. Even the conviction they convey with the way they talk, walk, and express themselves would seem to be a valued attribute when looking for leadership profiles. It is even argued that a leader must have “presence”, in reference to this aura of confidence that is evidenced just by having them in front. According to this logic, doubt is insecurity, vulnerability, and both things are not desired, or were not preferred, by companies.
In times of turbulent change like the current, of increasing variability and multiple sources of information that overwhelm us, we need a type of leadership that can handle uncertainty.
People who have a firm position, a defined and marked opinion on certain issues seem to be more trustworthy than those who do not. They are people who, it would seem, have already traveled a long way and have analyzed the issues to such an extent it has allowed them to reach certain conclusions, to attain certain “knowledge”. These people prioritize action over anything else.
However, in times of turbulent changes such as the current, of ever-increasing variability and of multiple sources of information that overwhelm us, we need a type of leadership that can handle uncertainty, one that shows leaders as they really are (sometimes vulnerable) and that understands that this confidence is increasingly difficult to achieve. And what is worse, more useless and dangerous.
Three ideas to reflect on: 1) The truths, assurances, and conclusions we have arrived at in the past may not serve us today. 2) The generalizations we may have made in some situation might not be relevant any longer. 3) Whatever our conclusions may have been, we could have been wrong even then.
What certainty hides
I think continually appealing to certainty is a way of hiding. Hiding our fear, our insecurity, our ignorance. And hiding is, above all, a guarantee that we are not really seeing what is happening around us. If you are really confident, chances are you are not prepared for the unexpected and, sooner or later, you are going to be surprised. If you already know how much you are going to sell, your whole plan could fall apart in the face of an uncertain event.
The key is to be able to understand uncertainty, to be able to recognize doubt and place it on the table. Only then will I be able to prepare myself for other scenarios, whether less or more favorable. When I ignore uncertainty, I do not eliminate it, I’m just closing my eyes.
Daring to think
People who do not have any doubts are not really observing well.
According to the 2018 World Economic Forum report, among the most relevant skills in the future will be complex problem solving and critical thinking (Future of Jobs Report, World Economic Forum, 2018). Today, we have more information than ever before in history. We have to learn to analyze it well and use it to solve problems: that is, to make decisions.
It is crucial that we learn to think in environments of uncertainty. The “without a doubt”, the rigid stances, the hard positions, the convictions to the letter, are dangerous in this environment. Whoever argues too vehemently leaves no room for their reasoning to be refuted.
We should place objectivity and the aim to obtain better results above our desire to satisfy our egos by being right. We have to prioritize doubt over visceral reaction. Not as a paralysis to action, but as an exercise in reflection, weighing pros and cons and choosing what is best. It is much better to be able to analyze the information I need, right when I need it, and then make the best decisions based on the evidence.
In short, let’s educate our children and teach our teams that doubting is not bad, but quite the opposite. In doubt lies the capacity for analysis and reflection. In the words of Jorge Luis Borges, “Doubt is one of the names of intelligence”.
Partner at Tandem.