Implementation Principle 9: Take The Leap Into Uncertainty
January 9, 2024 – This article is one in a series of articles about ACJI’s 10 Essential Principles of Implementation Leadership. If you’re new here, take a look at our first article in the series on principle 1 to start.
Put yourself in the position of a director who must decide between moving forward with a progressive, yet half-baked initiative to satisfy the powers-that-be or waiting until more things have been worked out and you feel more certain that this initiative will sustain in the long term. Maybe you don’t have to imagine. Maybe you’ve been in that situation.
It’s a crippling paradox: move forward with something that has promise but has a lot to be worked out or wait until you feel certain about the outcome (at least in theory).
It’s a nearly impossible decision. The tension to make the right decision can paralyze leaders who are waiting for the perfect response to come to mind. If a change leader stalls in this space between certainty and uncertainty, the void becomes an abyss where healthy progress withers away.
The Problem With Perfectionism
Far too often, change leaders spend their time worrying about the future impact of their decisions. The problem is not the time spent. The problem is using the mind to worry rather than to imagine positive outcomes.
When you worry, you are preparing for the worst-case scenario. This reinforces a negative mindset where you paint a picture of the very situation you do not want.
While waiting for that perfect solution, change efforts will erode to their eventual termination and other emerging leaders around you will develop the same practice. This is emotional contagion at work and, over time, this mental habit is woven into the organizational culture.
Remember, culture reigns supreme over the best implementation and innovation strategies!
Taking A New Approach To Change In The Criminal Justice System
The criminal justice system needs to adopt new ways of creating and sustaining change. At ACJI, we believe one of those ways is through Implementation Science, which directs us all to be comfortable with the discomfort. This means accepting the certain risks of our uncertain decisions.
In other words, leap into conscious incompetence, a stage where you become aware of what you previously did not know you didn’t know (unconscious incompetence). This is a stressful and awkward place to operate from, but practiced change leaders find comfort in that chaos. We call this failing forward.
To fail forward simply means that all certain options do not have guaranteed positive outcomes, so you take the leap into uncertainty and learn what you need to learn. (Learn more about Failing Forward in this article.)
To Sum Up
We are inviting you to take a leadership mindset of progress rather than one of perfection. It is a shift from distinct solutions to experimental ideas. Organizationally intelligent change leaders know when to start the analysis, when to suspend it, and when to take the courageous leap into uncertainty.
This quote from John Dewey, an American philosopher and educator, sums it up nicely: “We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.” If you want to enhance your leadership style and create more progress in your organization, now’s the time to reflect.
If you are in a leadership position with the criminal legal system, learn more about the 10 Essential Principles of Implementation Leadership in ACJI’s upcoming Academy where we talk about all 10 of the principles in much more depth.