Being comfortable with uncertainty

Progressive teachers also have to be comfortable with uncertainty, not only to abandon a predictable march toward the “right answer” but to let students play an active role in the quest for meaning that replaces it. That means a willingness to give up some control and let students take some ownership, which requires guts as well as talent. These characteristics appear not to be as common as we might like to think.

Alfie Kohn, Progressive Education: Why It’s Hard to Beat, But Also Hard to Find

I was reading over this article while preparing to speak with the head at my son's school. While I reading it, I was stuck by how many of Kohn's priciples of progressive education also apply to the workplace.

The above quote stuck me the most. The best leaders that I've worked with are those who are comfortable with uncertainty. The teams that worked under these leaders were always the best, most productive teams. Perhaps the reason for this is that leaders who ebrace uncertainty are able to make work feel like play.

This doesn't mean that those leaders had all the answers. In fact, the reverse is true. Instead of insisting that they had all the answers, they opened up to their teams about their uncertain. They give the teams time to find the answer, but also give them permission to act while still uncertain. Interestingly, when I think back, most of these leaders are from the time before I worked in techology, despite uncertainty being a key part of software development.

These leaders never place blamed when an uncertain action failed. Instead, they helped their teams look for a way to learn from those failures. Those leaders were the first to put their hand up when the idea that failed was their own. Instead of being sheeping and angry that their idea failed, they ase it as an opportunity for learning.

These are the leaders that I try to emulate on a day to day basis.

Queries permalink

  • I wonder if anyone has created a questin or series of questions when looking for a job to test an organization's tolerance for uncertainty.
  • Is there a way to "manage up" to help a leadership team become more comfortable with uncertainy.