How To Confidently Cope with Uncertainty

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The COVID-19 epidemic shook all of our lives. I was fortunate enough to have all my family remain healthy. It wasn’t so much the confinement that was challenging for all of me but the uncertainty. What would come next? When would this end? As the nightly news reports showed live images of empty public squares and airports, it felt like the entire world received a lesson in dealing with ambiguity.

And as if on cue, just as a tentative normalcy was returning to our lives, McKinsey published a new report called, “Defining the skills citizens will need in the future world of work.” What do you think was among the top skills workers need for the future? None other than Coping with uncertainty. Here is a summary of some of the research’s findings:

Holding all variables constant—including demographic variables and proficiency in all other elements—we found employment was most strongly associated with proficiency in several DELTAs [distinct elements of talent] within the self-leadership category, namely “adaptability,” “coping with uncertainty,” “synthesizing messages,” and “achievement orientation.”

When I read findings such as this, I have to hold myself back from saying, “I told you so.” I didn’t have to have 18,000 people in 15 countries fill out an online questionnaire to know that.  

In 2017, when I started working on Synthesis’ leadership assessment methodology with a team of ex-military psychologists, it quickly became clear that one of the main parameters for leadership was the ability to perform in rapidly changing environments. Even before PCR and serology became terms even kindergarteners know, business (and military) leaders have had to deal with constant uncertainty. That is why resilience is one of Synthesis’ Leadership Indicators. Resilience gives a leader confidence – confidence to take risks and seize opportunities. Resilience also prevents burnout because it helps a leader deal with the heavy workload all executives have to juggle. 

Making sure your leadership team comprises resilient people who cope well with uncertainty will ensure brave decisions can be made when necessary. It will also ensure your people have the mental stamina to deal with whatever is thrown their way. So how do you recognize resilience?

When reviewing a candidate’s resume, look for proof of significant past professional risks. For example, have they studied abroad or worked internationally? Have they made significant career changes, pivoted projects/companies or started their own businesses? Ask them to explain why they made the career choices they made and listen for signs of risk-taking.

Now that (knock on wood), COVID is mostly behind us, it would be amiss to think certainty has returned to our lives. Instead, I plan on seeing this past year and a bit as a learning experience. If COVID has taught us anything, it is the fragility of stability, the ubiquitousness of uncertainty and our tremendous resilience. Through strong yet adaptable leadership, we can create organizations which can weather the rough times and grab opportunities as they emerge. To do this, however, your company’s leadership team needs to know how to confidently cope with uncertainty – each and every team member. Synthesis’ assessments can help make sure that they do. 

Author: Inbal Arieli, Synthesis co-founder