Leading in the Dark

by Barry Gruenberg

Leading in the DarkIt’s often the case that people expect their leaders to be decisive — able to make difficult decisions quickly. Indeed, this kind of behavior is interpreted as one of the hallmarks of good leadership.

The reality is different, however.

The “rush to judgment” mindset creates undue pressure on leaders — the kind of pressure that causes them to prematurely choose a path forward even when confronting a complex problem.

To be truly effective, leaders need to balance the need to quickly converge on a single solution with the conflicting requirement that multiple perspectives be considered.

Yes, spending time to gain an understanding of the thought processes behind conflicting perspectives slows down the decision-making process. But it also creates a rich opportunity for much more robust solutions.

Slowing down is not necessarily a sign of procrastination or indecision. More accurately, it is a sign of impending wisdom about to be applied.

Tolerating this period of pause requires leaders to exhibit two qualities that seem to be in short supply these days:

  1. Self-confidence (not bravado).
  2. Patience (not procrastination).

Unfortunately, as external pressures from above and below increase, leaders experience an increasing tendency to internalize these pressures, causing self-doubt, stress, and a relentless need to prove their worth.

The result? Leaders end up adopting pre-existing solutions not well-suited to the challenges at hand. They decide fast, but the decisions they make are all too often fatally flawed.

Being able to resist mounting pressures to act quickly requires great intestinal fortitude. It requires leaders to keep themselves and others passionately engaged in the process of finding a way through the uncertainty instead of grasping at known “solutions” which only make the problem worse.

This phenomenon is similar to the classic story of the drunkard looking for his car keys under a streetlight even though he knows it’s not where he dropped them.

“I know my keys aren’t there,” he confesses, “but that’s where the light is.”

It’s not easy searching in the dark. Nor is it easy convincing others to join you in the search.

Which is precisely why being an authentic leader is so difficult these days.


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Barry GruenbergBarry Gruenberg is a highly experienced speaker, consultant and facilitator whose current passion is helping leaders in turbulent and highly complex environments create a culture and a context in which they can realize the greatest potential in themselves, their co-workers and their organizations.

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