Change is a historical constant. The rate of change is faster than ever. But the acceleration in the rate of change is at unprecedented levels. Therefore, we are journeying together in times and places previously not experienced.
The byproduct of an accelerated rate of change is a disquieting and challenging obstacle to today’s leaders. It forces leaders to make important strategic decisions in the midst of the unknown and, perhaps, the unknowable.
Absence of Knowns
Never before have we been pressed as intensely on every side to make decisions in the absence of basic and fundamental “knowns.” As I write this in 2016, the oil industry is in the midst of a historic crash, diving from over $100 per barrel not that long ago to testing lows below $30 per barrel – over a 70% decline in less than two years. The impact is currently wreaking havoc on the economies of oil producing nations like Venezuela and Russia, along with crippling a vibrant U.S. oil industry expansion, displacing multiple thousands of workers with the potential to exert yet another global credit crisis.
While the return to gas prices under $2 a gallon is favorable for consumers, it comes with an uneasy and uncomfortable sense that our financial stability is on a deteriorating foundation, individually and as a nation. Recent fracking-induced earthquakes are a physical demonstration of the financial tremors many are experiencing. Job displacement continues as mergers and acquisitions streamline costs. Globalization continues to encourage corporations to outsource production and services all around the world.
While innovation, technology and other changes bring long-term benefits, the impact to those living through the process can be painful, anxiety-ridden and costly. It impacts those directly displaced and adversely affects many more indirectly through heightened uncertainty and volatility.
One of the greatest costs cannot be analyzed in measurable metrics. It is the intangible cost resulting from missed opportunities due to hesitation-induced uncertainty.
In times of indecision, there is a tendency to play it safe or withdraw. Growth and revenue opportunities are hidden in the fog of fear that would otherwise be exploited to develop and strengthen our businesses.
In more stable times, thoughtful and proactive steps would be taken to reduce overall costs by investing to gain efficiencies and productivity. But in times of uncertainty, paralysis tends to overcome and outweigh good business decisions. Good leaders cannot afford to be impotent in their decision making at strategic inflection points.
“OK, so what do I do? I lead my team (professional group, division, company or conglomerate) and with so much pressure and so many voices, I feel I have no good options!”
Unfortunately, one of the worst elements to add to an environment of uncertainty or upheaval is for those “empowered” to lead, to allow themselves to be trapped in a loop of indecisiveness. Choosing to wait, to defer, or to depend on a future event, is to abdicate your responsibility as a leader.
Sometimes leaders just need to be reminded that it’s OK, even wise to take calculated risks. You will never know everything you absolutely need to before making a decision. And there is great power in others recognizing you are humble enough to quickly admit when you’re wrong and make decisive and timely adjustments.
Perhaps one of the greatest clues to gauging your aptitude for decisiveness is to reflect on what is happening to you internally. Great leaders are generally passionate within, regardless of personality. The uneasiness within provides clues to uncovering impediments to proactive decisions.
The inner conflict often points us toward what needs to change. Knowing the source of the struggle is the first step toward finding direction and making decisions that lead others on a fulfilling journey.
It’s often said that leaders “make things happen.” Perhaps it is more accurate to state that leaders make and effectively communicate decisions that “provide the environment” to make things happen in a direction that yields desirable outcomes.
Solomon, king of Israel, once wrote: “Make level paths for your feet; take only ways that are firm.” I don’t believe he was referring to a “no-risk” decision making environment. Wisdom includes assessing situations and determining the best path to take. The imperative is to “make” and to “take.” This implies decisiveness and action. Even in the midst of, or perhaps especially in the midst of, uncertainty.
This column was made possible by a partnership between ADVANCE and RBMA. For more information on RBMA, call 888.224.7262 or visit www.RBMA.org.