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At the Intersection of Ambiguity and Chaos

Owning your own business is, at its most exalted, a liberating and profoundly rewarding experience. At its worst, running your own business, particularly when preparing for an uncertain future, can be disheartening and demoralizing.

The truth is, the professional benefit from a self-determined career lies at both extremes (and points in-between). It’s great to have the wind at your back, sales piling up and a calendar full of satisfying work. It’s even better to have weathered the droughts, the rejections and the fear that comes from not having a steady paycheck.

This afternoon, I came across an exchange with Terry Kelly CEO of W.L Gore that resonated with me.

“Gore did a study of its leadership team a while back, asking them what the most important, formative jobs they’d had were. The purpose, from Kelly’s point of view, was to see if she could replicate that training, so she could build more top leaders. What she found, consistently, was that people cited as their most important job the one that was entirely ambiguous, that they struggled with, that was undefined. “That’s where they grew the most,” she says. There was no clear way to replicate that.” (emphasis mine)

My recommendation to Ms. Kelly would be to ask your employees to take ownership of some initiative, preferably one with a high degree of uncertainty and distinct risk of failure. Give them support and mentorship as needed to help them through the inevitable moments of crisis, but ultimately let them find their own way.

Taking the mantle of responsibility and peering out into the unknown is an awesome experience and is one that everyone, at some point in their life, should at least experience, if even for a limited time. I think it would make companies more vibrant and would yield a host of new insights and perspectives for Sr. managers and business leaders to cull from in helping their business to grow through difficult times.

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