Leading with confidence is highly valued. The 1984 TV commercial for Gillette’s Dry Idea antiperspirant ended with the famous ad slogan: “Never let them see you sweat.” In recent days, Duck Dynasty’s Jase Robertson deadpanned: “When you don’t know what you’re doing, you might as well do it quickly.”
Most people and organizations value leaders who exude confidence at every turn. Hesitation indicates flawed thinking and indecisiveness marks weak character. For those reasons and more, young leaders learn early in their careers to push uncertainty aside and project an air of confident decision making. It’s a key character trait that usually leads to positions of status and influence.
But do leaders always have clarity and confidence about their decisions and plans? The honest answer has to be no. Don Moore’s Harvard Business Review article sums it up well:
In the long term, honesty is the only sustainable strategy. Rather than fooling themselves, or us, we should want our leaders to represent the truth, even when it makes their jobs harder. That is, after all, one of the great missions to which we entrust them: to take the complex information and broad vantage point to which they have access and convey it to the rest of us in a useful way. Doing so represents authentic and courageous leadership, even if it means being less certain.
Courageous leaders find a way to embrace confidence and uncertainty together as key characteristics of humble and honest leadership. What are the appropriate moments to be less certain about the future? Be honest when:
- You don’t have enough information.
- The pace of change—with positive and negative outcomes—is too rapid for accurate forecasts (and decision making).
- The opportunity cost for a decision isn’t clear.
- Sharp disagreement exists on your team.
None of this means that a leader should stop leading or making decisions. In fact, these are the times when honest leadership is most needed. Communicate with others that uncertainty exists. And recognize that there are times when God calls you to pause and wait. That’s not a comfortable place for many leaders, but it may be your calling for a season.
For leaders who find it difficult to practice uncertainty (and I count myself in this group), consider a few ideas for more honest and open leadership:
- Wait on the Lord. Waiting is not easy in a culture of doing, but it’s a God-called place for every believer. If you spend too little time considering what God is saying in the quiet moments, then the watch word is “wait”—create some space in your day to pray, study the Word and worship. Read more
- Expand your prayer habit. Make prayer part of your daily routine for greater effectiveness in every area of your life. Expand that principle to your family and church to appropriate divine power for living the everyday mission of God. Most of all, believe in the power of prayer. Read more
- Practice humility. Demonstrate “serve first” leadership at every opportunity. Serve your leader with humility. Encourage a “serve first” attitude in the people you lead. Seek a “serve first” attitude in potential hires. Read more
- Listen to learn. Discuss key challenges and decisions with team members at all levels of the organization. Collaborate with team members and listen to what they have to say.
- Protect yourself from over-confidence. Check your motivations, your knowledge and your heart when you have a high level of confidence in a decision you’re about to make.
- Conduct due diligence. Analyze the situation and research the facts impacting a decision. If you don’t have enough information to proceed, then it’s time to wait on the Lord.
- Pause before big decisions. Plan an intentional pause before making an important decision.
So what’s the Big Idea?
Courageous leaders find a way to embrace confidence and uncertainty together as key characteristics of humble and honest leadership. Communicate with others that uncertainty exists. And recognize that there are times when God calls you to pause and wait.
- The Character of Leadership by Jeff Iorg
- Leading from the Second Chair by Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson
- Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders
- “Smart Leaders Are OK with Seeming Uncertain” by Don Moore in Harvard Business Review
- “Servants Make the Best Leaders” on Serve. Grow. Lead.
- Leadership Network
- Leadership Journal
“Smart Leaders Are OK with Seeming Uncertain” by Don Moore, Harvard Business Review (February 10, 2015), https://hbr.org/2015/02/smart-leaders-are-ok-with-seeming-uncertain.