S2E12: Jude Jennison reads ‘Leading Through Uncertainty’; Staying with the discomfort of uncertainty
Chapter twelve on staying with the discomfort of uncertainty explores how we often disconnect when it gets uncomfortable and how that causes us to erode trust and break relationships. When we trust in our capabilities, we trust that we can stay even when it gets uncomfortable.
The chapter begins with a story of my first workshop with clients with my horse Kalle and how I was faced not just with the uncertainty of how my first workshop might go but how to handle Kalle and the clients when faced with a potentially unforeseen challenge.
Here is an extract:
“Kalle came flying out of the stable, snorting in fear, her head held high. I struggled to lead her. She was dancing on her toes beside me, wanting to rush off ahead but paying attention to me as well and not wanting to hurt me. This was the afternoon session of my first workshop with clients. I was leading through uncertainty, unsure how to lead Kalle, unsure whether my workshop would work, unsure whether the clients would enjoy it. Unknowns and uncertainty in full swing. The morning had gone well. Kalle was proving to be exceptional in her first day of work, and I felt good about the learning the clients were getting. I relaxed as things were going well. As I led Kalle out, my heart rate rocketed as she bounced from foot to foot beside me.
The clients had just built an obstacle course around which they were going to lead Kalle. I was struggling to hold her, so I explained to the clients that she felt a bit unsafe and that I would let her loose in the arena first to burn off steam. I removed her head collar, and Kalle shot off. She ran up and down the arena at a flat-out gallop, snorting and looking out into the distance across the fields. The clients looked at me as though I would know what to do. I felt uncomfortable. Nothing prepares you for moments like these. All you can do in moments of uncertainty is be curious and trust in your leadership. We stood having a conversation about how we are never in control and the importance of surrendering to what is presented and working with it. Suddenly I heard the sound of a hunting horn, and I realised that Kalle had picked up on it long before we had heard it. I suggested that we wait a bit longer, unclear how this was going to play out. A few minutes later, the local hunt appeared over the hedgerow less than 100 metres away, in the next field to us. As 30 horses jumped over the hedge and galloped past with about the same number of dogs, all barking, Kalle grew increasingly frantic and flew up and down the arena at an alarming rate. It was an incredible sight, but I was terrified in case Kalle jumped the arena fence and joined them. Thankfully she stayed with us, but she continued to gallop up and down for the next 45 minutes. My workshop was over. There was no way we could work with Kalle now. She was drenched in sweat and far too anxious for clients to lead safely. I couldn’t get near her. Throughout, I noticed brief moments when I wanted someone to come along and take over. I wanted someone to fix the “problem” and ease my discomfort of not knowing. I kept bringing myself back to focus on the clients, knowing that they were relying on me to lead. I stayed, grounded in my leadership, trusting that somehow, we could recover the situation in some way, trusting that the clients would be OK with the workshop ending this way. The clients never finished their day as Kalle remained agitated and unsafe to lead. I offered them a free afternoon session another day so that they could complete their learning. Weeks later, they had still not returned, and when I contacted them again, they explained that they had got the learning they needed. The learning had been around how to stay in the discomfort of not knowing what is going to happen next and how to respond to it powerfully as a leader, continuing to take responsibility for our actions without needing everything to be wrapped up perfectly with a pretty bow on top. They learned that leadership is messy, and that we can still lead effectively even when we are uncomfortable and have no idea what to do next. My first workshop had thrown me in at the deep end of uncertainty.
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