Clarity vs. Certainty

Leadership teams often don’t reach clarity because they are waiting for certainty.

People fear the future, and understandably so since it is unknown.  Unfortunately, business leaders are not immune.  Every day, leaders of all types of organizations have to make decisions that will play out in an unknown future.

This pressure creates at least two significant problems for leaders.  First, since they don’t know the future, they are not sure how to change in the present.  Second, they don’t know if the changes they do make today will make a difference.  Some become fearful of making a mistake and do nothing.  Moreover, not making a decision is a decision not to act, which can be detrimental to the organization’s long-term health and vitality.

Leaders are human, and they will make mistakes.  In fact, that is how people and organizations learn.

So, what are leaders to do? 

Actions provide feedback about what works in the marketplace.  Taking action is important.  Leaders should take action.  They ought to test ideas and get feedback from the market, pursue what works and avoid what doesn’t.  Sounds easy, and it might be if the future could be known for certain, but that is not the case.

Even though the future is uncertain, the leadership team needs to be fully committed to a direction.  The target won’t be perfect, but it must be clear.  Patrick Lencioni (2016), in his book The Advantage,[1] says that leadership teams often don’t reach clarity because they are waiting for certainty.  Waiting for perfection causes confusion and a silo mentality, leaders lose credibility, and the organization suffers.

“More than getting the right answer, it is important to simply have an answer – one that is directionally correct and around which all team members can commit.”[2]  When leaders commit to a direction for the future, it is easier to make decisions.  Some uncertainty is mitigated.  Leaders can experiment with new ideas, learn from their mistakes and capitalize on what works.  Clarity of direction makes it possible to navigate toward an uncertain future.


[1] Lencioni, P. (2012). The advantage. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

[2] Lencioni, P. (2012). The six questions. Retrieved from http://www.yacumc.org/files/content/mountain+sky+area/mission+shaped+future/six+critical+questions++lencioni-meeting1-12.05.13.pdf

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