When in doubt, lead.

Paul Heagen Authenticity and Vulnerability Leave a Comment

Ken is a confident, proven, intelligent guy. Those qualities have worked well for him as he has paced himself through the developmental gates to where he is today — poised to take over the CEO role of a multi-billion dollar company.

Yet, as that prospect comes into focus, for the first time he admits to some doubts — not misgivings, just doubts. Doubts about how to tackle the tectonic shifts in generational culture of new workers, transformational technology, market forces and more. The stuff that rarely yields easy answers.

So, as much as his career has been marked by big, steady strides, he finds the next step a little hesitant. He has some … doubts.

Good. He should, if he wants to be successful.

Contrast that with Greg, who parachuted out of the ivory tower of a mega-brand global business, ready to export his proven practices to a new company where he boldly projected he would be named CEO in short order. He considered himself fully ready for the job.

He was fired a year and a half later.

Research bears out that you could almost predict Greg’s demise. Too often overlooked is the equal evidence that people like the doubting Ken are more likely to succeed in the long run. Seminal studies by executive coach and author David Dotlich reveal that 40 percent of CEOs fail in the first 18 months, yet most of them never imagined they would. Conversely, those who moved into that chair with a good dose of humility and sober acceptance of the gravity of the job, fared much better — often up to ten years or longer.

Healthy doubts are the Reese’s Pieces that lead us on a trail of curiosity toward the unknown. Doubt is a necessary intruder to the place often occupied by hubris. Doubting prods us that the answers are more often “out there” than in our heads. In reality, by thinking we have the answers, we are already spawning our obsolescence, because too much is changing too fast to keep it current in one mind.

Doubt — as a practiced discipline and exhibited judiciously in the presence of others — invites ideas and perspectives that too often wilt in the heat of the “really smart” CEO. Doubt prompts us to investigate the unfamiliar path over the well-trodden, and penalizes the certainty of our own past exploits.

There are times to move boldly, with a clear conviction and determined pace. However, the greatest personal growth comes when we embrace our ignorance as our most trusted companion.

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