Why An Effective Leader Needs To Provide Certainty

2 min read
11 May 2010

While conducting interviews and doing the research I needed for writing my book on engagement at work, it became apparent to me that several crucial ingredients are needed to being fully engaged with what we do. 

One of the “big ones” is certainty. Knowing the vision of where the company/leaders are heading, clear goals and direction and what needs to be done seem to be very important to most people. 

The more unclear or ambiguous the directions, the more uncomfortable people seem to be. And this is not unusual if we understand how the brain likes to function. The brain is like a pattern prediction machine and without some degree of certainty, prediction becomes impossible.

There are not many situations in life where we can be in control (even though many people may feel otherwise) as there is always “the unexpected” factor that can emerge at any moment and affect all the work already done.

The more that people believe they are in control, the more readily they are able to gather information to predict what may happen and design contingency plans, the more satisfied the brain seems to be.

When there is certainty the brain releases dopamine which gives us a sense of reward and satisfaction. Uncertainty acts in the opposite way, activating parts of the limbic brain (amygdale and insula) and inhibiting the release of dopamine.

In summary, we do not feel very good when we do not know what is going to happen. Research shows that even when we know that something bad is going to happen, our brain does not react in such a dramatic way as when we do not know “anything at all”.

From the perspective of becoming an effective leader, it is essential to remind ourselves that, providing some information is better than providing no information. A few comments can ease the pain of change implementations, restructures and other corporate “fashionable” movements.

Change for the sake of change is always a cause of discomfort for those who are not in charge and have to accept what is proposed. At least, let’s do implement change, protecting the need that we all have for “some” facts and insights into what is going on.

Meetings “face to face” are better than a written email. People feel more acknowledged and satisfied if they can interact and see others’ expressions and ask questions pertinent to the change that is taking place.

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