Managing Ambiguity
Thomas Thompson
April 12, 2022
min read

A few years ago I was meeting a client for lunch.  He was coming from Denver; I was in Colorado Springs, so we decided to meet near midway at Fox Run Park.  I punched in the location to my GPS and headed out.

As I approached the destination, Siri told me to stop and get out.  Problem was, I was in the middle of a two lane street, with forest on both sides.  No Fox Run in sight.

My GPS had failed me.  I was facing ambiguity.

But I did know the park was generally east and south of me. I did know I was within a mile.  And I did know (as all Colorado Springsicans know) where I was in relation to the Rocky Mountains.  Thankfully a few minutes of driving around got me where I needed to go.

Sometimes, in spite of all the Good Planning and Systems, our GPS will fail us.  We will face unanticipated situations.  

  • The flooded church auditorium that takes a year to fix.
  • The departure of the staffer you were about to make partner.
  • Accepting a new role that has yet to be defined.
  • A global pandemic where all the rules seemed to change weekly.

Even the best Good Planning and Systems cannot cover every situation.  

So when your GPS fails, fall back on your compass.

Your compass is what points you in the right direction, even when the destination is murky.  It gives guidance, directs decisions, and maintains momentum in uncertain times.

What are the Four Points of a leader’s compass?  

NORTH: Know why you exist.  Simon Sinek calls this your WHY.  Why does your organization exist?  Why does it matter that your organization exists?

SOUTH: Know how you behave.  What are the values of your team?  What are the rules that drive your decisions and culture?  The non-negotiables about how you act internally–no matter what happens externally?

EAST: Know your role(s).  What are the five things that only you as the leader CAN and SHOULD be doing?  What are these priorities for your team?  How are you orienting your schedule and conversations around these priorities?

WEST: Know what is most important, right now.  Patrick Lencioni calls this the “Rallying Cry.”  The clear direction for the organization over a fixed time--what's most important right now.  When the path seems murky, the rallying cry gives focus and clarifies priorities and decision making.  

When you face a situation of ambiguity, pause to run through the points of your compass.  Take something that feels completely unknown and reduce it to something that is mostly unknown.  You may not know what to do next, but you DO know why you exist, how you behave, what your role can and should be, and what is most important, right now.

You will not always have Good Planning, or a System to cover every situation.  But if you can push for clarity around these points, you will have a compass to guide your decisions and get you where you need to go.

If you want help clarifying your team’s compass, check out this resource.

Photo by Tamas Tuzes-Katai on Unsplash

I founded Thompson Leadership to come alongside leaders like you. Together, we will unpack your unique leadership, unearth your biggest challenge, and create an action plan to close the gap between where you are and where you want to be.
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