The Power of Certainty – Even When It’s Rubbish

Bruce Lee - Mr Certainty

Bruce Lee – Mr Certainty!

Have you ever noticed how assertive people can become when they are convinced of their position? In the face of such certainty, people that are less sure or who feel disadvantaged in some way, will often go along with that opinion, even though they may harbour doubts. In extremis, whole populations have been seen to follow a self-destructive path on the back of asserted certainty!

In leadership terms, the reverse is an interesting contrast. As a recent example, Jeremy Corbyn consistently exhibits hesitation between bouts of principled certainty, and has consequently weakened his appeal. Similarly, a number of high profile people such as Rupert Murdoch and Mike Ashley, have hesitated in front of parliamentary scrutiny, and have lost credibility as a consequence.

Certainty can suffer when we have to deliver something awkward. Maybe it’s delivering bad news, conducting a disciplinary, or providing some critical feedback to a close colleague. Too often, these events are avoided or fudged because they are emotionally difficult. Being certain about what needs to be done can enable more constructive management of such situations.

When presenting the business, the business model or your strategy, for instance, certainty will make it much more powerful. It will enable the story to be simplified and therefore more understandable. People can be galvanised into action and rally behind propositions. However, a decision to enter the ‘post-truth’ world of ‘alternative facts’ to create such certainty, is a personal choice accompanied by the danger of being found out.

Critical to effective leadership is therefore certainty (sometimes equated with clarity) about key issues in and around the organisation. Uncertainty leads to hesitation and as has often been noted[1], there is nothing like procrastination to drain the energy of both yourself and those around you.

Useful questions therefore include:

  1. What am I certain about in my business?
  2. How do I use that certainty to empower me?
  3. What do I need more certainty about?
  4. How am I going to gain that certainty?

However, beware using certainty when you are not really clear – it can get you into trouble as many of us know!

[1] After Kevin Kruse, author of “15 Things Successful People Know About…..”

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