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Do you have the ability to thrive in ambiguity?
25 August 2011
Today, I heard Gail Kelly, CEO of Westpac, speak at a Westpac Women’s Luncheon, hosted by Larke Riemer, Head of Women’s Markets.
Gail talked about leadership and what makes a great leader (in her experience) and in her business.
Something Gail said rang a very loud bell in my head: “Great leaders have the ability to thrive in ambiguity, love change and make decisions (a call) in uncertainty”.
Ambiguity is a term used in writing and math, and under conditions where information can be understood or interpreted in more than one way and is distinct from vagueness, which is a statement about the lack of precision contained or available in the information.
Context may play a role in resolving ambiguity. For example, the same piece of information may be ambiguous in one context and unambiguous in another.
Entrepreneurs, start-up companies and established businesses survive and thrive in Australia when they have great leaders. Great leaders thrive in ambiguity and uncertainty. It’s where they show true strength of character.
Ambiguity in a start-up is expected, in a fast growth company it is normal, and in a corporate it is an everyday occurrence for leaders. Ambiguity shouldn’t be confused with lack of accountability or lack of training or simple arrogance.
I thought a lot about ambiguity in business and in my businesses and what that really means and how I manage it day-to-day, week to week, in a fast growth start-up company.
After the luncheon, back at the office I counted, during the normal course of business decision making and operations and sales how many times in my head I asked myself “What does this mean and how will I manage it, what are the variables that I know and don’t know?”
I didn’t realise, but I ask myself this question all the time. Not out loud, but in nano seconds, filtering, gathering information, communicating with my colleagues, figuring out solutions, working out resolve and finding the smartest path to results. It is constant. I make decisions all the time in ambiguity and uncertainty, not knowing the exact outcome, but knowing I am making a good decision at that very moment based on what I do know and what I know I don’t know.
The truth is I don’t manage it; I don’t need to, I thrive on it and I love being in it. It is the very reason I see opportunity, capitalise on gaps in markets and see results and outcomes way ahead of the competition in some cases. It is the reason the business leaps forward in uncertain times, when others don’t have the gumption to make a decision that could affect everyone around them.
Thriving on ambiguity and making decisions in uncertainty is the reason Job Capital is agile, nimble and that we are not scared to make decisions we stand by and are accountable for.
Start-up business owners, entrepreneurs and the leaders of fast growth companies are always in a state of ambiguity.
There is always ambiguity in every business. Some try to manage it, some thrive on it, some are in despair over it. To create clarity, certainty and safety for your team and trust you need to be the person that thrives in the total opposite.
I believe it is critically important to acknowledge it by backing yourself and making the tough calls, thriving in the state of it and knowing that it will be there to greet you again tomorrow!
Jo Burston is the founder of Job Capital, a company that manages the financial affairs of contractors. The business was named the Officeworks Fastest Growing Start-up at the 2011 StartupSmart Awards. http://www.jobcapital.com.au/