Doubt and decisions

Doubt is often described as ‘crippling’. It leads to inertia and inactivity psychically and physically.

Unprecedented uncertainty currently exists at every level. Macro and micro. Personally and professionally. Organisationally and societally.

Doubt for leaders therefore comes from within and without right now.

Difficult decisions still need to be made. Dismissals to make, directions to take and doubt can cloud them all.

The task of an effective leader is to work with tolerating anxiety and uncertainty to explore the complexity of their own doubts, to make sound decisions. In practice easier said than done.

Leaders need to make space and take time to bear feeling as well as thinking their way through the dilemmas they face. Unpicking the origins and potential sources of their thoughts. Mentally testing out potential realities of their actions.

Tasked with writing this blog I found myself lying in bed similarly inert, indecisive and full of my own doubts. ‘I know nothing of value to write…..where can I even start, I’m not doing anything’. I felt seriously unpleasant, uncomfortable feelings of inadequacy and confusion.

Unceremoniously I was told to, ‘get up and get on with it’ by my six year old. ‘You’ve got to back yourself Mummy’, she quipped having heard the mantra espoused at her almost daily since lockdown ‘home-school’ began.

This ‘mini-me coach’ moment was followed by a timely text-message from the editor of a magazine I’d recently appeared in as an expert. ‘So much feedback on how good you were, our CEO even quoted you in our all staff meeting to 130 people!’

I realised the interactions with others to test out my doubts were utterly what was missing and necessary to get me thinking, moving, and producing.

Currently we are faced with uncertainty from big scale to small scale. Macro to micro. The course of coronavirus is as yet unclear and unknown. The impact on our economies and society, unknown. The risk on a personal level, to oneself and ones loved ones unknown. This is maddening in terms of managing one’s own anxiety on a day to day. In isolation we can go around and around in internal anxiety-fuelled circles.

Decision-making and doubt for me has ranged from the daily minutiae; ‘Is this trip to the bakery for sourdough ‘essential’ or should I walk to the closer one? Should I cross the road or is that person going to first? ‘.  To the bigger picture deliberations; ‘what am I doing living in an urban London flat with kids? Shouldn’t we have moved to the ‘burbs by now? What on earth can I write about that hasn’t been written or known before? Who am I? What do I want? What should I be doing right now to find purpose and impact in this crisis?

Fluff for the fluffy’, I then read on LinkedIn beneath a HBR article about leading with purpose today. My greatest fear realised! That anything remotely in the realms of emotion or meaning may be dismissed.  And yet, I resolve that I do know it matters. And from decades of experience. I am reminded that I continue to have the best credentials in that I have a mind. We all do. We may not be ‘doing’ as we are used to but our minds are active (like it or not).

In times of doubt Freud and Klein teach us we resort to psychic defences against the pain of anxiety, deliberation and feeling difficult feelings. We seek action, production and mania. It makes us feel better about ourselves. It keeps us in the here and now. The certain and concrete.

‘Wrong’ I wanted to post back to the negative LinkedIN comment . Purpose, values, authenticity are key concepts for leaders to grapple with right now.

To lead with meaning and consider impact upon our ‘organization’ in both work and as related humans on a global scale.

To doubt is to feel pain. To doubt is to feel discredited. To doubt is to dismiss. To doubt is to divide and ‘other’ those unlike us; in order to disparage or desire their qualities in comparison to our own. A process that needn’t involve anyone else and can be entirely internal.

As Shakespeare reminds us in Sonnet 29, to do so only makes us unhappy.

I have done this to myself all week. ‘Don’t think you’ll be quoted in HBR as soon as you start writing’ said a colleague in an attempt to free me up to just get started. ‘F your feelings about the process, we need to just crack on and produce this website’ I was told by the developer (who happens to be my other half). ‘Don’t you think you should be back on the front line intubating patients?’ I told myself as an ex-hospital doctor.

Doubts cloud clarity. We effect our own undoing when faced with doubt on such a scale.  

So to grapple with them, allow them to be experienced full force; including the thoroughly unpleasant feelings, and then be challenged from within and without leads to renewed focus.

Micro and macro, I have no doubt I am in the right job. I was once told as a Psychiatrist that I am ‘paid to think’.

I am also paid to make links and find meaning that can be actioned. So I write this to share my own human experience; unpicked and explored by over a decade of daily psychoanalysis and reflection; as a source for leaders who can and want to think in order to best act.

I will not please all people all of the time, but for some this will resonate. And it IS (as Winnicot says) ‘good enough’.

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