Uncertainty in life reveals certainty in leadership. Leaders often consider uncertainty and unpredictability to be the greatest enemy of planning and thus effective leadership. Thus by avoiding anything that contributes to uncertainty, they plan meticulously to ensure success.
Uncertainty is like mist. No one creates mist, it happens. The best one can do is equip oneself with penetrating fog lights to see inspite of the mist. The goal of an avid traveller is not to avoid mist, but to travel inspite of mist. The goal of an avid leader is not to avoid uncertainty, but to lead in the midst of uncertainty.
Most humans are underequipped to function in the midst of uncertainty. Leadership is the art of navigating through uncertainty. A leader uses one hand to help him navigate ahead through misty uncertainty, aided by penetrating fog lights of intelligence, and the other hand to steadily hold the chain of his clueless followers.
In Mahabharata, Ashwathama released the Narayanastra at the Pandava army on hearing the agonizing news of his father Drona’s death. The missile was so powerful that no one was powerful enough to counteract it. In fact the more the Pandava military tried to resist it, the more its fury increased. At a certain point the weapon multiplied into thousands of pieces and vehemently attacked from all directions. The Pandava leaders were at their wits end. Every weapon they were using to counteract, only resulted in increasing the force of the Narayanastra. Utter confusion reigned in the Pandava forces as the leaders grappled clueless.
At that moment, Krsna stood up on the chariot and made a shocking announcement. He ordered the Pandava warriors to drop their weapons, jump off their vehicles and fall flat on the ground. Instantly every soldier, dropped his weapons and was flat on the ground offering respects to the astra. Krsna saw that the only one still dancing in anger trying to counteract the weapon was Bhima who believed that it was cowardice to give up even in midst of the biggest adversity.
The weapon, by then had concentrated its entire fury on Bhima and Bhima was literally on the verge of extinction. Just in the nick of time, Krsna managed to reach Bhima and wrestled him down. As soon as Bhima lay on the ground in submission, the Narayanastra decreased its fury and soon disappeared leaving the Pandava army unscathed. In the midst of celebration, Krsna explained that the only counteraction for the Narayanastra was to submit to it. He revealed the weapon would never harm anyone who worshipped.
This is how we can deal with uncertainties…in facing uncertainties in life, the best policy is humility. Humility is not a sign of weakness, but a hallmark of strength. Not all problems can be solved with strength. Some problems have to be dealt with acceptance of one’s weakness. Leadership is about having the knowledge to discriminate which problems to deal by standing up and which to deal by lying down. Leadership is the art of clarity in giving precise direction in a chaotic atmosphere.
When the confusion of uncertainties clog the minds of followers, a leader thrives in that very chaos because he is celebrating clarity, a byproduct of profound knowledge. Leadership is about exploring possibilities beyond the regular box of thinking by constantly upgrading the knowledge quotient. One cannot Google for solutions in the midst of uncertainty. He has to rely on wisdom, which is digested knowledge and not on information, which is scattered knowledge.
On the 14th day of the Mahabharata war, when the battle continued beyond the scheduled hours and into the night, Krsna asked Bhima to invoke his son Ghatotkach, a mystical nocturnal rakshasa. The moment the Kaurava army saw a giant demon wreaking havoc in their camp, they fled. Every warrior failed in the presence of his mysticism and every weapon failed to penetrate his thick skin. Duryodhan panicked. His army was being thwarted in front of his eyes. It seemed as if his entire lifetime of planning was crushed by this huge uncertainty looming over him.
In his attempt to ensure victory and seal his disturbing thoughts, he did the only thing he could think of. He ordered the reluctant Karna to use his Shakti weapon, the one he had reserved for Arjuna. Ghatotkach died, crushing along with him not just thousands of soldiers, but also the singular hope of Karna killing Arjuna.
The uncertainty is not as bothersome as much as the feeling of frustration. Duryodhan got carried away by the feeling of hopelessness and as a result couldn’t think straight and forced Karna to give away his greatest hope of winning the war. In times of uncertainty, leaders impose upon their followers to make big sacrifices.
Uninspired leaders see uncertainty as spoiling their plans and destroying their set expectations from life. The inability to plan and control things makes uncertainty frustrating for leaders. Fear is born not so much out of uncertainty as much out of ignorance. Walking on a tight rope is a scary proposal if it is tied across the bottomless Niagara Falls, but not at all if the rope is tied two inches above the ground.
Uncertainty is like a crusher where the sweetest leadership juices can potentially be crushed out of you if you have a positive mindset guided by rich wisdom. But if drops of negativity are added to one’s thoughts, then the best of leadership can become poisonous when crushed by uncertainty. Life is like a war where many Narayanstras and many Ghatotkachs of uncertainty will be released at us. How we deal with them determines the quality of leadership.
There are two types of leadership styles in the midst of uncertainty. The Krsna type of leaders who are apparently only sitting, just driving chariots and not doing much in routine life. But in moments of uncertainty when the need is utmost and their managers have no clue about how to deal with a charging problem, they get into action offering precise solutions calmly churning their wisdom pot.
The Duryodhan type of leaders seem to be hyperactive, always micro-managing everyone and everything. But, when needed the most for their leadership, they make a hurried decision without complete knowledge and end up temporarily solving the problem by offering sacrifice of their most obedient followers’ desires and aspirations.
Uncertainty forces a leader to think clearly in mayhem. When one masters the art of clear thinking in chaos, then its child’s play to think clearly when there is order. The degree of maturity of the mind of a leader is determined by the degree of his capacity to endure uncertainty.
(The writer is an author, Tedx speaker, story-teller, corporate trainer and visiting faculty in several premiere management schools)