November 17, 2023

By Dave Bushy, PCC

Have you ever been absolutely certain of something, only to learn you were not correct?  Join the club – we’ve all been there.

Except for the admonition we’ve all heard about death and taxes, certainty is almost never certain, is it? 

As leaders and professionals, the attribute of certainty can support our success, especially if used with intent.  Expressing certainty about the capabilities of your team can inspire confidence and enthusiasm, for instance.  So too can being certain about relationships to engender trust within your company.  

While certainty can inspire, at times it can also regrettably lead to a loss of confidence for those around you.  If you are certain someone will fail, for instance, it can serve as a bias that just needs to be confirmed.  And if you are absolutely certain that someone is the right person for the promotion, it might lead to overconfidence and failure in the role for the individual and your own expectations.

The antithesis of certainty is, of course, uncertainty.  And that too can have a range of results if used without intention or understanding.  A savvy leader may act uncertain to elicit opinions from subordinates.  But a leader who is actually uncertain out of habit will often cause the team to be frustrated or feel as if they are not receiving needed direction or vision from their boss.

In coaching we approach a client from what we call “The Optimistic Stance.”  It is an intentional way of being that says that each person is doing the best they can in the world.  There are no guarantees of outcomes – successful or not successful – only a viewpoint that provides support and understanding of the talents and capabilities each person brings.  The certainty is in the optimism we express, not in the outcome that we believe will or will not occur.

The optimistic stance allows our clients and each of us to understand the pitfalls of certainty and replace it with a lens that allows for a range of perspectives.  It is meant to explore possibilities and allow for a leader to glide somewhere between certainty and uncertainty, using what works in the moment, rather than being tied to just one way of being.

I’ve worked with a number of clients who learned that they had become dependent on certainty.  It had helped them be successful, but there were times that it had cost them when they overused it.  So too with the clients who always tended to lean upon uncertainty.

Awareness of the “go to” approach used by clients – be it certainty or uncertainty – is a first step.  This can emerge from conversations with the client, interviews of their colleagues, or a comprehensive 360.  By knowing what they normally depend upon, the client can explore new ways of being in the world and especially in the workplace. 

Dave Bushy of Boston Executive Coaches – bostonexecutivecoaches.com – is a an ICF-certified coach who was trained at the Gestalt International Study Center (GISC).  Dave is a former U.S. to Army officer and senior airline executive who works with leaders throughout the world.

Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

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