Building up a tolerance for ambiguity and greater resiliency

Martha CarlsonBy Martha CarlsonMartha Carlson, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I’ve all but quit looking at the financial news these days, finding it just as frightening when the market has a 500+ point up-swing as it is when stocks take a dive.  There are no answers right now nor is there any certainty, other than the fact that a multitude of people much brainier than I are trying to sort through the financial crisis and bring things back to some sort of equilibrium.   So, what to do in the meantime?

It is in times like this when I remember what one of the best leaders I ever had told me – “it is a leader’s job, among other things, to have a high tolerance for ambiguity and substantial resiliency”.  Never has this statement rung more true.

High tolerance for ambiguity means not needing to have all the answers before making a decision or taking action.  It means taking measured and appropriate risks, even in the face of uncertainty.  It means taking stock of what you DO know and what you CAN control or impact and moving forward.  And, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, its about “taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase”.  As leaders, we must not only have a high tolerance for ambiguity ourselves, but we must also instill this in the people and teams we lead.  And in times of uncertainty, others will most certainly look to us for queues about how to move ahead.

Resiliency is about handling set backs, both personal and professional.  It is about getting up and getting going, time and again, even on those days when you’d just as soon lay down by the dog dish.  Its about having the perseverance to see through a challenge to its conclusion, to generate alternatives when past approaches no longer work, and to have faith that circumstances will come around.  Sometimes its a matter of asking yourself “what’s the worst thing that can happen here?” and, finding that both tolerable and unlikely, pressing on.  Resiliency is not only handling adversity, but learning and growing as a result.

These days I take some comfort in the fact that I am not retiring for another 20 (or 30?) years and will have ample opportunity to continue to develop my own tolerance for ambiguity and resiliency.  Let’s hope, however, that the economy isn’t always putting both to the test!