Surfing uncertainty – allowing for new perspectives in an increasingly complex work environment

14. May 2018 - Share this page

Uncertainty can be unpleasant – until you learn how to use it to your advantage. A quote, often attributed to Albert Einstein, defines insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. This makes perfect sense to Client Director Joakim Eriksson. In fact, it is one of the key reasons why modern day leaders need to work on their personal capacity to handle increasingly complex environments. Not by fighting uncertainty, but by embracing it – surfing it, to be precise.

“The leaders of today are expected to handle disruption and to continuously embrace new opportunities. The trouble is, that’s easy to say and harder to do. For most people, breaking habits is difficult because our automated behaviors are programmed into the subconscious parts of our brain. When we, as leaders or as a management team, are under pressure, we normally fall into old habit patterns.

Imagine this work scenario: a new competitor disrupts the market, and your sales drop. Instinctively, most leaders face that challenge by simply doing more. We work harder and try to maximize performance the way we know how to. This automated way of responding can be useful at times when we are faced with a problem for which we already know the solution. But when we as leaders face new types of challenges, we need to be able to step out of our autopilot mode. The good news is, we can train this ability,” says Joakim Eriksson.

Challenging your habitual thinking

“In order to surf uncertainty, we need to work on recognizing when we go into autopilot,” says Joakim Eriksson. In the words of Austrian psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl: Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. “This quote describes a core ability for leaders and management teams to be able to navigate uncertain situations,” says Joakim Eriksson. “When you catch yourself before going into automated behavior, you can reflect and consider multiple options before acting. It’s a different way to look at efficiency – by doing the wise thing rather than doing more.”

“The leaders of today are expected to handle disruption and to continuously embrace new opportunities. The trouble is, that’s easy to say and harder to do.

Rewiring the brain to better handle uncertainty

The last decades of neuro research shows us important facts about the plasticity of the brain – basically, your brain shapes itself based on how you use it. The key is to find ways to train new brain patterns that are helpful in a leadership context. Meditation and mindfulness techniques have been shown to improve the kind of self-awareness that helps you read the early warning signs of automated behaviors and at the same time improve your ability to pause and reflect before acting. Research indicates that about 10 minutes of daily practice is enough to rewire the way your brain responds to uncertainty and stressful situations.

“Personally, I believe that this kind of mental practice will be a natural way for leaders to stay on top in the future,” says Joakim Eriksson. “Apart from being well educated, leaders will increasingly need mental agility to navigate the challenges of the future.”

The key is to find ways to train new brain patterns that are helpful in a leadership context.

3 tips: How to work on your ability to navigate uncertainty

  1. Dare to look at your assumptions. The ways we prioritize, behave and make decisions as leaders are based on a wide range of assumptions we have about ourselves, the world around us and the people we work with. This does not have to be wrong – but sometimes the world around us changes and we need to update our perspectives. Be curious about the assumptions you and your management team hold as truths, and ask yourself what kind of automated behavior patterns this can lead to.
  2. Learn your early warning signals. We all go into autopilot on a regular basis. In some cases this can be helpful, but sometimes our autopilots create barriers for a necessary change in behavior. Learn to read signs that show when you are moving into automated behaviors – as individuals and as a team.
  3. Practice putting the autopilot on hold. Once you learn to catch yourself before you go on full autopilot, you can practice pausing. Take a few deep breaths to refocus, take a short walk or whatever helps you change context and get perspectives on the situation for a moment. This activates the more rational and reflecting parts of your brain, and helps you balance the subconscious automated patterns that want to guide your actions.

About Joakim Eriksson

Joakim Eriksson is a Client Director at Mannaz with over 15 years of practical experience as a leader – both in mid-level management and as CEO. As a consultant, he has many years of experience working with leaders and management teams – both in the role of coach, teacher and process consultant. He is a long-time practitioner of mindfulness meditation and helps leaders develop the emotional intelligence skills needed to tackle dilemmas in modern organisations.

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