Conquering Ambiguity

Conquering Ambiguity by Dr. Robert Gerwig

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“President of Ecuador Hit with Tear Gas” … A few days before I was to depart from the United States to Ecuador, Ecuador was in the news. Not just the local or regional news, the international news. There were concerns in my family about my safety. Would I be safe? Could I get in the country? Could I get out?

I received a call that same evening from a friend and colleague of mine, the Dean of Business at Universidad Tecnológica Indoamérica (Ambato, Ecuador) where I was to teach a leadership class as part of an organizational leadership program. Rolando said it was nothing major. Just a little “demonstration” between the police and the President.

After getting off the phone, I was reminded by my well-meaning family that this little “demonstration” had shut down the airport in Quito and that no one was allowed to enter or exit the country.

In the end, I went and had an amazing time! The people were great! The hospitality was wonderful! The food was spectacular! The students in my class (businessmen, politicians, police and military officers, graduates students, and academicians) were eager to participate and hungry to learn!

I was humbled and blown away by the experience. Near the end of my stay, the police commandante of Ambato (who was in my class) insisted that he escort me on a day-trip to the Amazon. He wanted to be my personal “guide.” “Was I interested?” How could I say no? I was “all in.”

When I got back to my hotel room that evening, a small voice in my head said, “isn’t this guy a leader in the police organization that just a week ago sent tear gas at the President?” … In response, I said, “yeah, but it was just a little “demonstration” – a small difference of opinion between the police and their President. It all worked out in the end.” … Of course, I went on the trip to the Amazon and had a great time (plus I developed a “friend for life”).

Not all days are filled with big decisions. Not all days are adventurous. Not all days require decisions about traveling into a potentially dangerous situation. Yet most days require the leader (YOU!) to deal with ambiguity at one level or another. Most days require that we make adjustments. Changes in course (minor and, sometimes, major). If you aren’t equipped ahead of time to deal with ambiguity, it can be devastating to you and to your organization.

Are you going to lose that large account? What is consumer demand going to do next quarter? What are raw material prices going to do next week? What will the price of oil be in a month? Will there be a power outage at my facility due to the storm? Are our contingency plans enough to deal with the impact of floods? Tornados? Earthquakes? Fires? Tsunamis?

As I sat in my Ambato hotel room, reflecting on the experience, the blessing it had been for me, the impact I’d had on others, the new culture I’d tasted, I was thankful I had chosen to say “yes” and come to Ecuador despite the “demonstration.” And, I hasten to add that the “demonstration” was not the only the ambiguity I was confronted with since I’d arrived. No, there had been many. Another example? In addition to the organizational leadership course, I had been asked to give a 1-night leadership seminar to ~50 people (mostly university students who weren’t in the certification course). Before the evening was over, the seminar had over 500 attendees and I was being broadcast “live” into the overflow auditorium. This wasn’t what I’d been expecting. This wasn’t what I’d prepared for. This was a BIG change. In the end, it worked. It was ok.

Dealing with ambiguity is a key tool in the successful leader’s toolkit.

A few quick tips for dealing with ambiguity:

  1. Don’t panic
  2. Keep things in perspective.
  3. Plan, Prepare, Practice – then, don’t worry. Do the best you can.
  4. Take it one step at a time. Don’t get too far ahead and worry about things that “might” happen. Deal with the “here and now.”
  5. Don’t complain (to others or to yourself). This is no time for whining.
  6. Think of it as an “adventure.”
  7. Learn to say “no” if the situation is completely beyond what you can accommodate.
  8. Lastly and most importantly, breathe slowly and pray. Jesus isn’t surprised by life’s events and He can equip His followers to respond to ANY ambiguity.

What tips do you have for dealing with ambiguity?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. The floor is ALWAYS open.

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