Living and Leading in the Mystery of the Unknown

Apr 22, 2021

A leader’s pathway to success is largely unknown. Like trailblazers, strong leaders lead the way for others to follow through uncertain territory. It takes tremendous confidence to pave the way not knowing what lies on the other side. This is not the kind of confidence associated with having all the answers, but the confidence to lean in and move forward despite all the unknowns.

Accepting the discomfort of not knowing is a defining characteristic of strong leaders who have the willingness and emotional fortitude to trust the process and proceed toward making a positive difference.

In reality, we are constantly surrounded by the mystery of the unknown. When we pay attention, we recognize the shadowed spaces standing between what is well-known and what is yet to be known. Weaving through these dimly lit areas calls for enduring difficult emotions that come with taking chances.

Leaders, like anyone else, are fundamentally emotional beings. Emotions show up as energy flowing in the body. It may sound easy to know what we’re feeling and express it in constructive ways, but emotions induce a complex series of bodily reactions that require emotional courage and self-regulation.

A best practice is to not get derailed by reactions rooted in survival instincts that easily result in controlling behaviors like micromanagement, perfectionism and conflict avoidance. Becoming aware of what we’re feeling helps us stand the heat and make better decision in the moment and long term.

For example, if you’re aware that you feel scared, notice the related bodily sensations, and can name what you’re feeling without over identifying with it, you will be far more in control of what you do next. The difference lies in turn of phrase. If you say to yourself, “I feel scared” rather than “I am scared,” you are more likely to stay on the rails. I “am” results in an over identification with the emotion and triggers a reflex reaction rather than a thoughtful response.

No company can grow without leaders who are willing to lead in the mystery of the unknown. Accepting the discomfort of uncertainty, and the vulnerability that comes with it, distinguishes leadership from all other dominant roles in an organization. To reach those untried ideas that improve the future, a leader must be willing to step into the mystery of the unknown to meet the answers new frontiers can bring.