Smart leaders know that things are shifting. Shifting rapidly. Actually, I don’t think that you need to be all that smart as a leader to know this! The full impact and messy reality of globalisation, intertwined economies, scary fundamentalism, clashing agendas, colliding worldviews and a creaking planet are all meshed together through rampant technologies that invade everywhere (well, perhaps not North Korea) and used by everyone (see previous disclaimer).
Foggy roadWe are living in connected and complex times and leadership has never been tougher. Sure, there have been times throughout the bloodline of history where the leadership challenge has seemed insurmountable but the view from 2015 is, in the opinion of many, beyond all precedent.
If the fog confronting leaders were to be signposted I would use one simple word: Uncertainty. It would be a signpost that is well lit and large. It needs to be a signpost that leaves the leader who is leading into the future in little doubt as to what the journey entails. The certainty of uncertainty is the prevailing paradox facing leaders who ready themselves, and those along for the ride, for whatever the fog is hiding.
To lead into the future means that leaders need to understand, embrace and befriend uncertainty. Looking for certainty in today’s context is to cripple the thinking that is required and limit the options to be explored. Navigating the future will mean that as a leader you will have to be comfortable with prevailing uncertainty. That is just the way it is.
One of your challenges will be to becalm the shrill cacophony of voices around you demanding certainty. Helping those you lead and the broader stakeholders understand the reality of uncertainty – both the dangers and opportunities, and what it needs to survive and thrive in such a context, will be your immediate challenge. If you can do that, it will go a long way to determining just how well you navigate the foggy conditions.
There would be a few things that might help you in this inevitable challenge:
1.    Reinforce the context not once, not twice but every time you have opportunity. Make the reality of ‘uncertainty’ something that is heard often enough to create it’s own strange comfort and steel others with the resilience and a readiness needed for the challenge.
2.    Install great fog-lights. Questions that probe the fog and focus attention and endeavour are the fog-lights being referred to. You might well come up with other ‘fog-lights’ but whatever they are, make sure they are in good running order.
3.    Don’t concern yourself with looking back. It is hard enough looking forwards. Make looking forward your undivided focus and concern.
4.    Stay calm. Your own level of comfort in uncertainty will go a long way to generate calm and cohesion amongst those that share the journey. They will be watching you, listening to you and will ultimately emulate you. Set the right example. Live the right example. Duplicity of thought and action in foggy conditions can be fatal.
5.    Know what it means to be ‘futurefit’. Keep your strategies flexible and ensure you hold lightly to your plans. Flexibility becomes easier the more you stretch and so make sure your decision-making processes and operational follow-throughs are well stretched. Exercise often and regularly.
6.    Every now and then pause. Allow your eyes time to adjust to the foggy conditions. You will be amazed at how they do so and it will make driving in uncertainty easier and slightly less stressful. Help those around you learn what it is to ‘pause and allow time for their eyes to adjust’. Make it a regular habit both individually and collectively. It will help keep you on the road.
7.    Get used to the fog (uncertainty) for when, from time to time the fog lifts, driving will be easier but know this, fog will be the rule and not the exception. Accepting this makes everything easier.
Uncertainty. It is not a word that evokes comfort or assurance but, if you are to lead into the future, you will need to find ways to make it both!

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