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  • Writer's pictureGinny Telego

When Leaders Choose to Lead

Uncertainty. It’s something that is guaranteed no matter how successful we are.  It surrounds us in our personal and professional lives.  Organizational leaders spend millions of dollars and thousands of hours strategizing on how to battle uncertainty by trying to create certainty.  But it’s a losing battle. As soon as it seems like a situation is stabilizing, something external happens that turns everything upside down.  And leaders are left trying to figure out where they went wrong in strategy.

But what if uncertainty was looked at from a different perspective? Focusing on overcoming uncertainty means we are only focused on what “could” happen.  Instead of trying to create a plan to overcome something we don’t know anything about, what if we created a plan that is based in the present and is adaptable enough to handle challenges as they come?

In our experiential workshops, the outcomes are always uncertain – because the horses are a variable that cannot be predicted 100% of the time.  What works for one person or group to move the horses may not work for others.  What works with one horse may not work with the other horses.  The energy of an individual or group impacts the response of the horse.  The best laid plans often go completely awry because other variables that were unseen impact the process.  And so participants are forced to examine what aspects of the outcome they can control and what aspects they need to adapt.

In the herd, uncertainty is the order of the day, everyday.  Every moment could bring predators or other threats to the herd so it’s essential to be prepared for anything.  But that doesn’t mean running around expending resources “just in case.”  Horses can go from grazing to a full run in a matter of seconds because they are hard-wired to survive.  But they also have a process to determine how to respond and when.

Understanding that uncertainty is the most certain thing we can expect, here are some insights from the horses to help leaders deal with the ambiguity that they must face daily:

  1. Let go of thinking you can plan for every contingency of uncertainty.  You can’t.

  2. Lean on your team to provide suggestions for creating a plan to manage threats but let them know the plan needs to be adaptable.

  3. Don’t get emotionally hijacked by unplanned situations arising.  Once this happens, rational thought becomes elusive and no one ever makes good decisions in the height of an emotional response.

  4. Learn to “go back to grazing” as soon as possible.  This is something the horses are masters at doing and I truly believe it’s a skill that can greatly benefit organizations.  When horses feel the need to run away from a potential threat, they don’t just keep running aimlessly. They run to a safe distance where they can stop and evaluate the threat and determine whether to keep moving away or not.  If the herd leaders decide the situation is not really a threat or that they have gotten far enough away to be safe, they go back to grazing as if nothing happened.  They are still aware of the situation, but they don’t continue reacting.  This protects their energy resources so they can be ready to move again either to food and water or away from danger.  They are agile enough to respond to a threat but also know when to bring the herd back to a place of balance.

As humans, we are susceptible to staying in a heightened state of panic long after a threat has dissipated.  The longer we are in that emotional state, the harder it is to think clearly about finding solutions and even worse, we expend resources that could better be spent ensuring that everyone on the team has the resources they need to do their jobs.  When people feel that they have the resources they need, they are much more likely to be able to ride the wave of uncertainty in a way that might actually uncover ideas that otherwise would have been overlooked.

In uncertainty, leaders have the responsibility to provide direction, regulate the energy needed to respond, manage the level of emotional response and then bring the organization back to a place of balance so that their team members can utilize their resources to be prepared for a response to the next challenge.


Ginny Telego is the President of The Collaboration Partners, a consulting firm that is dedicated to helping leaders and teams develop the skills necessary to adapt to change in the ever uncertain environment that challenges organizations across the globe.

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