Embracing The Unknown

As leaders, we sometimes have to stand up against our fears and walk through the dark tunnel of the unknown, otherwise we always find ourselves crawling back to the comfort of what we’ve always known, of what we’ve always done, of where we’ve always been.

If you have ever served as a leader, whether you want to admit it or not, you’ve been there.  Springing out of your sleep breathless at 2:00 a.m. in the morning.  Wrapped in sweat, panic-stricken, heart-pounding, on the verge of hyperventilating.  Overwhelmed by all that you know needs to get done, all that needs to happen.  Crippled by doubt and fear of not knowing.  An overwhelming sensation that it all lays on your shoulders.

The vision.  The direction.  Goals to be met.  Objectives to be set.  Next steps, next steps, next steps…

Overtaken by the feeling that you have to have all of the answers, and why not?  You are the leader.  Aren’t they looking for you to know?

Which is the mindset of most leaders.  The belief that if they are not making it happen, it won’t get done.  The belief that everything rests upon them, sits on their shoulders.  And as leaders we buy in, hook, line and sinker.  We swallow that mindset whole.

So we stress, we fret, and we scurry about trying to get everything done.  Making sure we are always prepared, always ready, the leader with all of the answers, the one to provide the organization with everything needed and necessary.

The “fearless” leader…

Yet, we have to ask ourselves, do we ever reflect on this mindset?  Should we?  Is this what a leader needs to deliver?  Have we even ever considered these questions?

Is this truly what it means to be a “fearless” leader?

Maybe a better question in our current situation and for our modern times is whether or not as leaders we can get comfortable with not always knowing?  Can we stand unwavering in the face of the unknown?  Can we push ourselves to get comfortable in a place that has always been uncomfortable?  Or will the anxiety and pressure of having to know all of the right answers (instead of the right questions) overwhelm our senses?

Will the fear of the unknown cause us to crawl back to the familiar?

A world where we have the answers, where we can fix all of the problems.  A world where comfort overcomes growth and capacity.

Can we enable ourselves to embrace what John Keats referred to in the 1800’s as our “Negative Capability?”

For Keat’s, “Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” 

Julie Berstein, author of Navigating the Creative Process expands on this idea of Negative Capability as “this ability to stay in a place where you don’t exactly know what is going to happen next.  Willing to chase down ideas and also willing to understand that not all of them are going to lead somewhere but, the experience of pursuing an idea will influence the next idea.

One of the most uncomfortable stances for a leader, is to stand in the middle of the unknown, without all the answers.  To place themselves smack in the middle of that unknown, that uncomfortability, for that is the vulnerability arena.  An arena that most leaders will refrain and refuse to place themselves into…

Embracing uncertainty and the unknown is downright uncomfortable, especially as a leader.

However, in today’s rapidly changing and morphing society, it is quickly becoming a much more common occurrence.  A much more common position.

Today’s leaders are going to have to be much more accepting of the unknown, much more willing to embrace it, especially if they are going be able to pull their organizations through murky depths of transformative and disruptive change.

“The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities.  We need men who can dream of things that never were.”  -John Keats



3 thoughts on “Embracing The Unknown

  1. Pingback: But I don’t have all the answers! » Superintendent's Blog

  2. What resonates with me the most after reading this blog is that teachers also face similar experiences in the classroom. They are not the knowers of everything and the good ones will position themselves alongside their students in an effort to find out the answers together. We all have together better at embracing the unknown and ever-changing murkiness around us. Thanks for sharing is blog post David.

  3. I really enjoyed this article. I’d like to share it with some high school and college students for a mini-course I”m creating on leadership. What it expands on is the concept that leaders need to believe in the value of our cause, and even if we don’t have answers, we still forge ahead because our cause is the right thing to do.

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