The many shades of gray

shades of gray“Tolerance of ambiguity” is appearing more and more often in leadership competencies and interview questions for leaders at all levels in higher education.  Many of of us are used to regarding decision-making as a black and white, EITHER/OR process.  We are now realizing the importance of the gray space of BOTH/AND that lies in the middle of most critical decisions.

How can we help ourselves and our team members get used to working in ambiguity?  Can we move beyond tolerance to even enjoying it?

In this blog on dealing with ambiguity, Colin Shaw proposed ten steps to help. His focus was the business world, but the concepts apply in higher ed as well.

  1. Suppress your urge to control things.
  2. Learn to act without the complete big picture.
  3. Accept that some of your decisions will be wrong.
  4. Develop flexibility.
  5. Learn to deal with uncertainty.
  6. Realize there is no defined “big plan” to work from.
  7. Be confident.
  8. Listen to your voice.
  9. Listen to advice from others.
  10. Learn to deal with stress.

For me, suppressing the urge to control things and find the “right” answer has been a leadership challenge.  As Shaw says, sometimes a wrong decision is better than no decision at all.  There have been times when I needed to make the best choice I could based on the information I had, and then move confidently forward.

Having a supportive leader was important in my process of learning to deal with ambiguity.  What can you do to help yourself and your team members successfully navigate an ambiguous world?

Dee Anne Bonebright




3 responses to “The many shades of gray

  1. “Tolerance for ambiguity” is a question I have asked all candidates for a position for over 10 years now. I found this question was rich in lots of ways:
    — I learned about the candidates’ need to know information
    — I learned about the candidates’ since of how the 21st work place is structured
    — I learned the candidates’ basic vocabulary (e.g. some candidates would ask me to define “ambiguity” for them)

    So this phrase is critical to our understanding of the work place today!


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