The 7 characteristics of an Explorer Mindset – #3 Ambiguity Tolerance

Posted: 17th April 2019

Rolling Stones co-founder and songwriter Keith Richards has a view on ambiguity , “I look for ambiguity when I’m writing because life is ambiguous.”

Life, and business in the 21st Century is ambiguous and uncertain. The Explorer Mindset programme gives leaders the tools and approach to operate effectively and stand out from the crowd by viewing ambiguity and uncertainty as challenging and interesting.

What is Ambiguity Tolerance?

Tolerance of ambiguity is the extent to which an individual is comfortable with uncertainty, unpredictability, conflicting directions, and multiple demands. Most people are unsettled by a high level of ambiguity, but effective leaders can help settle their teams by providing them with clarity through the process of sense-making and sense-giving. There is plenty of research in the area of ambiguity tolerance which our Programme Directors have built into the Explorer Mindset Programme. Leaders with a high ambiguity tolerance tend to be more entrepreneurial (Schere, 1982; Rigotti et al., 2008) and show more decisiveness in managerial situations with high levels of uncertainty (Ashill & Jobber, 2014). Researchers have also found ambiguity tolerance to be positively associated with change leadership capability (Judge et al., 1999). The ability to tolerate ‘not knowing’ (an aspect of ambiguity tolerance) has also been associated with higher levels of resilience in and out of the workplace (Boss 2013; Wanberg & Banas, 2000).

Satisfaction from Ambiguity?

Some leaders can get satisfaction from ambiguity, others frustration, how do you fare?

(I Can Get) Satisfaction from Ambiguity

Leaders with high ambiguity tolerance tend to:

  • find ambiguity in work more interesting than stressful
  • be relatively at ease in situations with high levels of uncertainty and will tend to be more comfortable than most in executing and leading in those contexts
  • be able to make decisions on incomplete information
  • enjoy complex thinking and exposure to unfamiliar situations and problems
  • be tolerant and investigative when faced with multiple conflicting interpretations.

(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction from Ambiguity

Leaders unable to tolerate ambiguity tend to:

  • find that complexity leads to disinterest
  • find ambiguity frustrating
  • prefer to lead projects with tangible outcomes
  • feel very uncomfortable making decisions with incomplete knowledge or little knowledge and/or experience.

How can leaders build ambiguity tolerance

Most people will be unsettled by a high level of ambiguity and the Explorer Mindset Programme develops leaders to help them provide their teams with as much clarity as possible through the process of sense-making and sense-giving.

The programme team will address:

  • How you can leverage your ambiguity tolerance to create greater clarity and less uncertainty for others
  • Expecting the Unexpected – Lord Richard Wilson, Møller Contributor
  • Leading others – Ruth Berry, Programme Director
  • Strategy; Competitiveness and Complexity – Sudhanshu Palsule, Programme Director
  • Explorer Mindset Characteristics Diagnostic – Portia Hickey, Møller Associate
  • 21st Century Leadership – Sudhanshu Palsule, Programme Director
  • Megatrends – Jay Jung, Møller Contributor
  • Futures Thinking – Hardin Tibbs, Møller Associate
  • Team leadership in uncertain times – Ben Hardy, Møller Associate
  • Ambiguity tolerance is also developed during the inter-modular project and inter-modular coaching. These interventions will help you to identify organisational challenges where you can use your ambiguity tolerance effectively in situations with a high level of uncertainty that normally paralyse leaders’ thinking and decision making.

Ambiguity sells

With over 250 million records sold, the Rolling Stones are living proof that ambiguity sells, and we know that leaders, their teams and their organisations will get satisfaction from an increased tolerance to ambiguity.

This is the third of seven insights in which we introduce you to the other six characteristics of an Explorer Mindset including: