CONSULTATION : Leadership is an ambiguous environment

I have read that one of the key attributes of successful leader is the ability to handle ambiguity effectively. This has made me think, as I tend to be perfectionist. I always feel I have to get my head around most of the picture before moving forward. Unfortunately in my current senior management role I am finding this increasingly difficult to achieve. Do you have some suggestions please?

An ambiguous environment is by its nature unclear and vague. However, by developing some specific management skills you can strengthen your capability to be effective in this situation.
First of all have look at how effectively you plan. Do you identify the big things that need to be done and prioritise them, or do you find you are trying to plan for every little thing?
Then take look at your decision making. Even the best laid plans will fail to achieve their goals due to changing situations. When this happens, do you identify what needs to be done that isn’t getting done and make the hard decision to go for it? Another issue around decision making is that it is important for leader to draw everyone into discussing how to solve joint problem and then listen to what is being said. Then if an effective decision doesn’t naturally arise, the leader needs to take the high ground and make clear decision for the group, whilst at the same time acknowledging their input.
Following this have look at your communication skills. Are you able to consistently frame clear and concise messages to the people around you to help them recognise the environment they are in and where they need to be aiming for? Being able to do this well empowers the people around you.
Then I recommend you assess the level of your people management skills, especially goal setting and coaching.
Finally have look at your ability to handle stress. Working in an ambiguous environment is naturally stressful. If, as you say, you are perfectionist then you will feel this stress more and need to develop the ability to just let go.

Giving presentation is definitely not my personal strength. I find it difficult to keep track of what I am saying and often get feedback that I could improve my delivery. The silly thing is that I usually know my subject really well and would have thought I could easily get the information across effectively. Are there any tried and true ways of ensuring presentation is effective?

The key way to ensure your presentation works is for it to have structure that meets the audience’s needs. You may know your subject very well but your audience can only cope with small amount of information at any one time, especially if the ideas are new to them.
A good approach is to first identify an overall goal for the presentation and communicate this to the audience. For example, “Today I am going to give an overview of the new XY Project.” Then identify three key headings that you could cover to achieve this. For example: project objectives; project timeline; project resources. Then in your actual presentation tell the audience the three main headings you will cover. Anymore than three starts to become overkill for them.
Having achieved this clear focus you can speak in detail covering each of the three headings in turn. The audience will find it relatively easy to keep track of the presentation even though you are now into the detail.
Once you have done this recap for the audience by saying, “I have just covered the three key areas of the XY Project; objectives; timeline; and resources”. Then remind the audience of the overall objective of the presentation. That is, “So I have now presented broad overview of the XY Project.”
Finally make sure you ask for questions.
Once you are familiar with this approach you will find it relatively easy to use this framework. In fact you can apply it to impromptu presentations or when you want to communicate an idea clearly in meeting. Having simple structure will make it easier for you to keep track of where you are in the presentation and what you are doing. It will also make it far easier for the audience to actually ‘get’ what you are saying.

Address your problems to Kevin Gaunt at: [email protected]

Kevin Gaunt, FNZIM, FAIM, is CEO of NZIM Auckland and has been senior executive with, and consultant to, some of New Zealand’s largest companies.

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