The location of certainty

Sep 9, 2010

Weak, ineffectual (or simply deluded) leaders almost always mis-locate their certainty.Weak leaders begin with a foundation of personal self-assurance which they believe will act like a red-hot, coal-fired engine that will fuel and power the entire train. In fact, this assurance almost always dissipates radially – and quickly – leaving a vacuum that is often filled by uninformed improvisation, or at worst, inaction.

Ask such a leader about what is happening in the front line, in the trenches – ask them about what the customer experience is like, for example – and you’ll almost always find that the level of their understanding is weak, if not deluded (although that weak, deluded view will be expressed strongly, even ‘definitively’):

Weak leader

The locus of certainty in a weak leader

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Strong leaders start instead at the outside: they make sure they are entirely certain what is really happening in the trenches (they do this through being engaged, not by micromanaging). They understand, intimately, how their organization goes to market. They are under no delusions. When it comes to what happens at the vital front edge of their organization, they are certain.

This allows great leaders to not only accept, but encourage, uncertainties and ambiguities – even contradictions – in their personal strategic thinking. This in turn enables them to be flexible and dynamic, rather than ‘certain’, yet brittle:

Strong leader

The locus of certainty in a strong leader

It’s of little value to a leader to be “often wrong, but never in doubt”. Do you need to relocate your certainty?