Today I’m tired. Everything was much simpler when I was a developer. It was the time of clarity. Things were black or white, true or false… I could easily see if I was doing the right thing. If it was working, it was the right thing! The simplicity resided in the certainty of the action. Being a developer was somehow speaking a binary language, living in a binary structure. It was like juggling 2 balls.
Now, everything is different. I’m a manager. Nothing’s easy anymore; it seems there is no good answer. I feel like I always have to choose the solution that’s the least awkward. I often have to make decisions based on my intuition and the latest is continuously attacked by my inner voices of judgment and fears. There is not a single day that goes by without seeing a post or reading something that explains what is a good manager. Every day, I see a quote about leadership and how to be a good boss… Nothing to make those voices stop. It gives them strength and triggers my impostor syndrome. The following questions are constantly arising: Am I capable? Am I made for that?
Those are my thoughts right now. Yet, I’ve been a manager for quite a while and achieved successes. However, doubts remain. I’m writing this post for people who recognize themselves in those words. I don’t write as an expert but as a human being, believing that truth has many faces, many definitions. In fact, this text is an invitation to explore the question of certainty. I also want to share some of the ways I’m using every day to cope with this feeling, hoping it will help someone else.
Complexity, damned complexity!
I’m old enough to see that the world of work is much more complex now than it was 25 years ago. Today, it seems that for every dilemma, several perspectives are activated, and they all seem valid. This leaves me with a big problem: what should I do to find my way? This is a big challenge for a manager like me who’s used to apply recipes and rely on his experience. The recipes don’t work like before; I don’t get the same results. My environment and the situations seem to expect from me a greater level of competencies and skills. When I think about complexity, it reminds me of Richard Feynman. Feynman is a famous physicist who said “If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics.” This is what I think about complexity in today’s world. A system is complex if we can’t explain the relationship between its components simply in analyzing them, because they’re dynamic and changing.
However, I do have something to cling to. Recognizing that my environment is complex is also admitting my difficulty to understand it. Being humble before this complexity is important, but we must also trust ourselves. I made an inventory of things that help me to continue despite my fatigue. Here are a few of them. Maybe they will help other managers like me to deal with complexity and uncertainty.
1. I name my intentions; they are the basis of everything I do.
I know it sounds simple. Just a few years ago I was not asking myself too many questions about what is good or bad, what I wanted from life and what I didn’t want. I was living on an autopilot without really knowing what sense to give to my actions. By reflecting on my intentions, I can at least put aside a series of actions and solutions that are not aligned with my intentions. It allows me to regain control and observe what happen. I’m better positioned to see if everything is aligned with my intentions. When I say “intention”, I really mean who I am, who I want to be, and what kind of difference I want to make.
2. I have strong moral principles.
As far as I’m concerned, integrity is a core value. My actions must reflect what I think, and what I think must serve my intentions. I will not do anything that betrays my intentions. I will not believe something just because it feels good or say something just to please. I do not know if my quest is noble, but for now, this is not what matters the most to me. My concern is to respect myself and not to act against my values.
3. I value my assets.
I look at what I have, not at what’s missing. A good way to give more power to my positive inner voice is to look at what I’ve done, not at what I still have to do (especially when the road is long). It is possible that I had to make detours, but I’m certainly a little further now than I was a few months or a few years ago. If I am able to look at what I’ve done so far and answer positively to the question: “is it better than before?”, then I’m on the right track. Value my assets means look at my progress and find out what works. Value my assets also means to look at opportunities to improve what has been working and identify opportunities. It is about living in a more affirmative and positive zone, a zone that pulls us forward; it is the zone of the “possible”.
4. I spot the “armchair quarterbacks”.
I have enough of my inner voices to pay too much attention to the voice of others. I noticed that there is always someone that thinks he or she would do better than me . . . someone who understands everything, who knows exactly what I should do. There is always someone who simplifies the complexity I’m facing by invoking simple solutions. I believe that, in order to really understand a situation or a social field, we have to be part of it. I listen to what people say and I ask questions, but I’m the one who is well positioned to integrate advices in my day to day situation.
I have a profound intuition: a leader doesn’t change the future and doesn’t control it. He can only try to give a sense to changes and keep a good balance with the disorder they create. In fact, I don’t influence others to go in a certain direction, but I try to show them the possible paths.
5. I try to do a little more.
For my part, a little more means deploying more efforts. Nobody can blame me for that. I can be criticized on the relevance of what I do, but then I go back to the other points. I must be careful here because sometimes self-motivation is not enough. A pat on the back is sometimes necessary, and when it doesn’t come, I must slow down a bit. Working hard always provided me with a sense of being useful, a sense of happiness that is hard to describe.
6. I work on myself and what I’m learning is priceless!
Work is never over! There’s always something to learn and improve. My self-development allows me to appreciate other perspectives. It allows me to bring to light the subtle disguises of my ego. It allows me to see when I just cleverly try to prove me right when I’m wrong. I discover my imperfections and sometimes improving really means to learn to live with them and accept them. The sculptor unveils his work by removing pieces; he carves a wolf by removing everything that is not wolf. By working on myself, I reveal myself by removing everything that is not me.
7. I open my heart.
For some people this last point may seem a little inappropriate at work. I think it’s just the opposite. I discovered the power of the heart. I experienced it and I can say that unless you’re a sociopath, you can’t be indifferent to an open heart. An open heart and being vulnerable directly affect the social field, the people around us, and opens up possibilities. This is an incredible constructive power that we all have.
These are some ways that help me deal with the complex world of management. We must not bury our head in the sand, we do make mistakes, but neither should it become an occasion for self-flagellation. We just need to realize that other people live the same thing their own way. When I feel tired, when I’ve had enough of sailing against the wind, I think about these 7 points. I’m curious to know what other managers do to deal with uncertainty. What are your methods? What do these reflections evoke to you?