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Should Leaders Seek Certainty or Clarity?
When leaders believe they can know the outcome of a decision with absolute certainty, they ride a false sense of security. Despite the fact that achieving certainty about a decision result is nearly impossible, leaders often set their sights on this lofty goal. They turn over every stone and examine even the smallest pieces of information, all the while eliminating uncertainty layer by layer.
In doing so, they strike a deal with the devil of certainty that convinces them they are ever closer to knowing the consequences of a decision. Disappointment is almost guaranteed. Evidence suggests the more certain a leader is, the more likely it is that they are wrong.
Better leaders set out to achieve a more reasonable goal. They seek to gain clarity. Clarity gives leaders a sense of focus without necessarily offering them the answer. As they work toward clarity, leaders gain perspective, seeing the choices and possibilities more clearly. Clarity gives leaders a firm sense of what they should do, without the false promise of knowing for sure it is the right choice.
When leaders listen, observe, and reflect, they gain clarity. Achieving clarity also requires curiosity and a willingness to consider other points of view. Once the path forward is clear and the best choices have been determined, leaders can then think probabilistically about what decision offers the greatest advantages.
When making decisions, leaders too often set their sights on certainty when the goal of clarity would serve them better. Being unclear is not knowing what to do. Being uncertain is not knowing what the outcome will be.
Clarity matters more to great decision-makers because the process required to achieve it allows for multiple points of view to have value. By not seeking certainty, leaders free themselves from an overreliance on data that confirms a single choice.
When leaders are confused or face great complexity, they are highly attracted to certainty. Fending off this attraction and seeking the goal of clarity is the smart call. The best leaders accept uncertainty and seek clarity. The greatest understanding always lies in the greatest clarity.