Uncertainty changes everything. Current practice and direction may not be ideal, or even viable. Leaders who were not accustomed to soliciting divergent views may find themselves blindsided by unknown factors or unable to make decisions because of too little information. Many of these leaders fail the test of good leadership.
In times of uncertainty, firms need their leaders to set the course for the organization through the turbulence—and to do so with less information and more uncertainty than most people are comfortable with. Good leaders make decisions under uncertainty after soliciting input—including dissenting views—from a diverse group of individuals. They see opportunity in the face of change and are not paralyzed by lack of certainty or the risk of making the wrong decision. Rather than sticking rigidly to known paths, they are curious about alternatives and ready to pivot.
Good leaders understand the wisdom of soliciting input, especially opposing views, despite the inevitable discomfort associated with that approach. In other words, they embrace the concept of collective intelligence (CI) or the intelligence of a group rather than of an individual. Research shows that CI is associated with better decision making, greater curiosity, more effective leadership, and improved firm outcomes.
Achieving collective intelligence requires both cognitive diversity and a culture that facilitates effective communication and productive debate—particularly decisions of significant consequence and/or high degrees of uncertainty.
Pursuing collective intelligence is considerably harder in the current environment, however. Not only is it difficult to solicit and process conflicting views in a dispersed workforce, it is also difficult to overcome natural tendencies to resist risk taking and making difficult decisions.