Getting Stuck in Clueless

We’ve all been “clueless” at some point in our life, the place where you “don’t know what you don’t know.” When you first became a leader, you were probably clueless about a lot of stuff. But not for long, I’m sure. Organizations may tolerant poor performance from some folks but they don’t let it go for too long with its leaders. Being ignorant is not on the list of excuses leaders can use.

Getting stuck in “clueless” is dangerous for a leader
Holding an underlying belief in “ignorance is bliss” as a leadership strategy is a sure path to failure. When you hear leaders using the more socially acceptable “not having enough time” or “it’s not my job” explanation for not dealing with people problems or thorny cross department issues, what you are really hearing is their belief in ignorance is bliss.

I contend that leaders get stuck in clueless because the alternative state, being anxious, (where we “know that we don’t know”) is too uncomfortable. It’s the place where we have to make a conscious decision to change how we are managing or thinking or pretend there’s no problem or it doesn’t apply to me.

Being anxious is a good place to be
Anxiety serves a critical role for leaders. It makes you most open to learning. It’s when you can acquire the knowledge and skill you need to solve a problem, create a new solution, find a new way. However, if you don’t capture your anxiety and manage it with thoughtful reflection, you’ll find yourself in one of two places:

– the activity trap: where you feel compelled to take lots of action or create lots of activity with little results, or;
– the dig in your heels trap: where defensiveness takes over and you resist any efforts for change.

Jump from clueless to anxious
How you think about things creates the framework for how you will respond. If you think feeling anxious is bad, too uncomfortable, then you will most likely postpone dealing with the red flags that pop up in your team or department. Things will fester and then you’ll have to deal with the explosion. If you get comfortable with your own anxiety, decide to invest in learning about the situation, then you get to problem solving faster.

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Dannielle Blumenthal

Interesting. I think “calm urgency” is a more apt word for the ideal leadership state of mind, though I get what you mean.

Lauren Modeen

Really interesting post, and a new way of thinking of leaders (too often we just reflect on the positive pomp and circumstance). I’d be interested in hearing more of your thoughts about leaders!