Leading in Unending Uncertainty

We are in unending uncertainty. We should not try to cope with it, but just be with it and see opportunities arise. ~Margaret Wheatley

I recently listened to an interview with Meg Wheatley and much of what I’ve included here are bits and pieces from that interview. Wheatley said, “We are in unending uncertainty. We should not try to cope with it, but just be with it and see opportunities arise. We don’t have enough stability in the environment to actually adapt. The core issue for us right now is wrestling with how we deal with uncertainty.”

Wheatley described a shift in leadership. She said that “it’s not enough to know how to reduce conflict, give feedback, or have a systems perspective. The challenges in the current environment are different. People are increasingly angry and fearful. Consequently, we act from self-interest and self-protection.”

Be the Presence of Insight and Compassion

Leading in unending uncertainty requires leaders to be the presence of insight and compassion. To do this, leaders need to learn how their mind works and be able to watch their thoughts and not get seduced by them.

Don’t React

Leaders need to be able to notice when they are reacting, and once they can see when they are reacting they will realize they don’t actually need to react. In order to develop presence and not get triggered, we have to know our minds and work directly on what triggers us.

Don’t Filter

Additionally, leaders need to know how they currently filter information and only see or hear what has already been important to them. We need to get rid of the filters on our perceptions so that we can take in more information.


Leaders with the presence of insight and compassion have chosen not to flee; they abide.

Abiding is being a peaceful presence. It means being patient, but it also means letting go of the need to have things come out exactly as we want them to. Instead of imposing our criteria for success, respect, or how something will benefit us – just be present.

Choose to Be

We could argue that in the midst of unending uncertainty, leaders are being either too pessimistic or too optimistic. Leadership needed for today is different. Instead of focusing on “is the glass half empty or half full,” we need to think, oh look, there’s water there. Who needs it and how do I get it to them? That’s an example of what it means, as a leader, to be.

Reacting isn’t bold, it’s fearful. Filtering isn’t an act of grace, it’s intervening. Leading in unending uncertainty with the presence of insight and compassion requires leading with bold grace.

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