Our brains are complex things, but not great at handling complexity. We need a few key leadership principles to help us make sense of the fast paced hot mess that is our current leadership context.

Principle 1 – We need to de-stimulate our brain

It’s capable of absorbing a lot. But if we are going to make use of its ability to make connections, we need to let the stimulus settle, like the flakes in a snow globe. So make space for nothing. That means let your eyes rest on nature instead of a screen for a few minutes at least each day. Let your senses do their thing while you do nothing. Don’t try to focus or not focus. Just be.

Principle 2 – We can map complexity

No map is a perfect replica of reality. Otherwise it would be reality! Yet maps are a good snapshot of what is going on. In the work that I do with leaders, I show them many different kinds of maps they can use to make use of complexity:

  • Maps of human behaviour, like the Four Devils of People Stuff (in my latest book, People Stuff)

  • Maps of problems, like the problem tree (also in People Stuff)

  • Maps of possible futures like scenario planning (you guessed it, also in People Stuff)

Principle 3 – We can ask better questions

In speaking to a client yesterday, he was asking the question, “Am I too gentle?” He was concerned he was getting pushed around too much – by the Board, by staff, by clients and suppliers. In the conversation we discover that being gentle was one of his core values, so asking him to change that was never going to work. So we asked better questions, like these ones:

  • What result do I want?

  • What emotional responses am I having in these situations and are they working for me?

  • What are the patterns of behaviour and systems that are contributing to these situations?

  • What could I have changed about my approach that addresses systemic problems, and not just symptoms?

Complexity is part of the leadership journey. There will be no clear paths.

Becoming an Amplifier, a leader who can lead though complexity and ambiguity while making the world a better place, means becoming ok with not knowing. We say goodbye to certainty of outcomes, and say hello to certainty of courage. We may not know the exact direction, or if the next steps will be the right ones, but we know that taking courageous action is a step forward that may lead to a clearing in the fog.

How comfortable are you with uncertainty and complexity? What leadership principle can you experiment with?