Eat Your Uncertainty for Lunch

Uncertainty isn't going anywhere. In fact, uncertainty is more in-style today than it's ever been in business and leadership. In the age of digitization, automation, and volatile change, uncertainty is here to stay. Devouring uncertainty requires mindful focus and making the strange more familiar. These tips will help!

In my forthcoming book, Future-Ready Leadership (Praeger, 2018), I tackle the topic of uncertainty because I think it's an essential element of becoming a future-ready leader and leading through change.

My uncertainty research led me to create a series of tools around the idea of leadership Presence, and how mindful focus can help us devour uncertainty and other performance killers. 

If you want strategies for dealing with uncertainty, anxiety, and fear, my chapter on presence delivers seven tools that can help. Sign up here if you'd like to learn more about Future-Ready Leadership (the book) and stay connected with me.

In this post, I've included some tips and tricks for dealing with uncertainty in the age of digital disruption.

Uncertainty: Know What You're Eating

Devouring uncertainty starts with knowing what you're dealing with. Let's face it, no one orders the "mystery dish" off of the menu. You have to understand what ingredients make up your uncertainty in order to deal with it effectively. 

Simply put, uncertainty is caused by our inability to predict the future. This is pretty basic "fight or flight" stuff as it relates to human behavior. 

Here are the facts about how uncertainty works:

  1. Humans crave certainty.
  2. Leaders and followers are both human (at least for now), therefore, everyone wants certainty. 
  3. Change produces uncertainty and anxiety. 
  4. Anxiety and uncertainty negatively impact performance and decision-quality. Therefore,
  5. More change = more uncertainty = big performance challenges for leaders. 

Future-ready leaders understand that uncertainty is a performance killer in organizations. It leads to tension-filled relationships, poor decision-making and other dysfunctional behaviors.

This is because uncertainty creates an actual neurological threat response in our brains. Our brains hate threats caused by ambiguity, which leads to fear, anxiety, and low performance.

What should you do about uncertainty then? Well, since the brain craves certainty, feed the craving! 

​​​​Tip # 1: Feed Your Certainty Craving

The human brain craves certainty. Whether you're meeting a stranger on a train, or you're hiring a new employee, the majority of your communication is always focused on reducing uncertainty about people and your circumstances. 

What do people value? What do they think? What do they care about? What do they want? 

How do they feel? What will move them to act? Why have their preferences changed? How do I get them to adopt a new change? 

Just having answers to these basic questions about new people and new circumstances (change) can create greater certainty and improve brain performance. 

Tip # 2: Do the Dos, Avoid the Don'ts

If uncertainty and anxiety are the enemies of performance, then information, and insights are the cure. Information allows us to predict, which lowers uncertainty, risks, and fear of the unknown. 

This simple checklist can help you devour uncertainty and make better decisions. 

The Dos and Don'ts of Creating Certainty



-Stay curious
-Ask questions
-Talk to customers
-Listen with an open mind
-Be mindful of your reactions to what people have to say
-Think you know it all
-Tell more than you ask
-Be rigid and fixed with your mindset
-Ignore your feelings and instincts (stay present with them, follow them!)

These simple dos and don'ts provide a great framework for creating more certainty at work and in life. But you and your employees also need tools for keeping your cool "in the moment." This is where my third tip will be useful.

Step 3: Stop. Breathe. Reflect. Choose. 

When I was a lead culture, change, and engagement consultant at Trinity Health, we used a tool called "Stop, Breathe, Reflect, Choose" (SBRC) in our culture transformation methodology. SBRC was designed to help leaders slow down for a moment when they were faced with an important decision before choosing a course of action. This tool help manage the emotions that follow uncertainty around (i.e., fear, anxiety, and even anger). 

I learned this technique from a facilitator who told a group of us to sit quietly with our feet on the ground. She then instructed us to close our eyes. First of all, I can't stand when people tell me to close my eyes in a workshop setting--instant red flag! 

Despite my discomfort, I played along. I survived the exercise and no one stole my wallet while my eyes were closed.

The Value of Tools Like SBRC

Many years later I had to pull SBRC out of my leadership toolkit when I was confronted by a very stressful situation involving a client and my, then, boss.

It was very late at night, and I was fuming over the situation. I was just about to push "send" on an email that I had written to my boss, when I paused for a brief moment (Stop). In this moment I experienced the anger, frustration, anxiety and uncertainty well up inside me. Then I took a deep breath (Breathe), which helped clear some of the negative emotion and let me get my wits about me. I thought to myself, "Do I really need to send this tonight? How will this impact my relationships with my boss? And our mutual client?" (Reflect). Instead of sending, I put the message in my "drafts" folder and reread it in the morning (Choose). 

In the morning, with a clearer head and heart, I reread the email, made some significant edits to my choice of words, and sent a message that led to a stronger relationship with my boss and better outcome for the client.

With the exception of the eye-closing bit, I'm a big fan of SBRC for managing uncertainty and the stress that it can cause. Try it out next time you need to make a decision amidst uncertainty.

Stay Hungry and Buy the Book

As I said, uncertainty isn't going anywhere, so stay hungry my friends! I hope that these tips and tools help you manage the uncertainty in your life and in your organization.

Click the button below to stay connected with me about my book, Future-Ready Leadership: Strategies for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The book has more than 25 tools and techniques (above and beyond what I've shared here) for meeting the demands of fourth industrial revolution leadership. 

Take care and see you in the future! 


Chris Groscurth, Ph.D.

Chris Groscurth, Ph.D., is author of Future-Ready Leadership: Strategies for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. For the past 20 years he has worked as a researcher and strategic advisor to leaders across healthcare, finance, manufacturing, government and education. In addition to his consulting work, Chris addresses thousands of leaders annually through speaking engagements and workshops. Throughout his career, he has held leadership positions with Gallup, the University of Michigan, and Trinity Health. Chris currently leads Stryker's global learning design and development team, shaping the future of leadership in a high-growth medical technology company. Chris received his doctorate in human communication processes from the University of Georgia and has bachelor's and master's degrees in human communication studies from Western Michigan University.

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