Get Comfortable with Ambiguity

Get Comfortable with Ambiguity

Why This Isn't Always Great Advice

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“You need to learn to be comfortable with ambiguity.”

Every leader has probably heard this feedback at least once in their career. It holds undeniable wisdom. As leaders, we frequently face situations where we lack complete information to make perfect decisions, and we must learn to navigate uncertainty adeptly.

However, like any valuable advice, being ‘comfortable with ambiguity’ can be misconstrued and misapplied to great detriment. One of the primary responsibilities of leaders is to provide clarity for their teams—to ensure everyone is working toward the same goal and playing by the same rules. In other words, leaders are charged with eliminating ambiguity for their teams.

That’s not a small job. Fighting the forces of entropy and competing priorities to keep everyone on the same page is an extremely difficult (and never-ending) task. It is easy to grow busy or tired (or burnt out) and neglect this responsibility. You deal with ambiguity every day, so your team can handle a little, too, right?

Probably not.

When we become comfortable asking our teams to tolerate ambiguity, we abdicate the primary function of leadership: to create an environment and a system of work that produces great results with minimal friction. When ambiguity abounds, people can interpret signals in vastly different but reasonable ways. This creates losing situations where there are no villains—just people acting in good faith with the information available to them, yet finding themselves in unnecessary, unproductive, and morale-destroying conflict.

When you find two parts of your team or two teams in your company are constantly pulling against each other, a lack of clarity on objectives or rules of engagement is often the root cause.

To be a great leader, live by this mantra: Outside your team, be comfortable with ambiguity; inside your team, create clarity.

[ Photo by Eric Muhr on Unsplash ]