Next tier leadership

This is part 2 of a 3-part blog revisiting Towards Safer Uncertainty. In the first 70 days of lockdown I posted 15 articles on building resilience and navigating:

  • Uncertainty

  • Change

  • Impermanence

  • A lack of control

  • The unknown

This still seems relevant. Here’s a guide to the series

It feels like it’s time to share some reflections and add to the story.

Part 1: A recap on the Concepts and framework
Part 2: How Towards Safer Uncertainty helps describe Next tier leadership
Part 3: Observations from 2020

The leadership requirements of now

Towards Safer Uncertainty (TSU) helps describe the leadership attributes, behaviours and capacities of next tier leadership. Next tier leadership is a way of naming the leadership requirements of now. It speaks to our current circumstances (was it not always so), and what your team and organisation needs from you.

‘Capacities’ is a very deliberately chosen word. Capacity represents a leader’s ability to hold leadership. In the way that a bigger glass holds more water, a more effective leader is able to hold a bigger world view, and a greater bandwidth for human experience.

Our communities, organisations and planet seem to be asking for a shift. This shift requires leaders who have made the transition from independence and competition, to inter-dependence and collaboration. I believe this is what surviving and thriving will look like into the future.

The TSU Quadrant is a useful lens for exploring these attributes, behaviours and capacities. It is also really helpful in recognising and considering the behaviours that sit in the other windows of the quadrant. In reality you may find yourself in the various windows at different times. The TSU quadrant is aspirational. You may not be able to remain there all the time but it is a worthy goal.

The other quadrants serve as good monitoring and awareness lenses. They help with self-awareness and management, and they help with monitoring and engaging others.

Safe and Certain

Doesn’t exist but we may fool ourselves into believing it does.

Behaviour turns up as:

  • Fixed on a position, a belief, a perception

  • Blocked to new thinking or evidence

  • Denying reality and what is obvious to others

  • Controlling of people and functions

Certain and Unsafe

Certainty does not exist. Feeling unsafe, while trying to maintain a front, can elicit dangerous behaviour.

Behaviour turns up as:

  • Territorial of position and functional control

  • Rail roading a belief or a way of doing things

  • Protected and unavailable to new thinking or evidence

  • Damaging, both to others and as an inhibitor of business progress

Unsafe and Uncertain

This can be a reality. It is a threatening experience that requires care and support. The consideration here is whether feelings of ‘unsafety’ are real or perceived.

 Behaviour turns up as:

  • Rudderless with a lack of clarity or decision-making

  • Neurotic and jumping from one task to another

  • Paranoid of others and possible future events

  • Vulnerable, fearful, irrational

Safe and Uncertain

This can exist and is a worthy goal. Embracing this quadrant is a choice of active engagement with reality.

Behaviour turns up as:

  • Enabling learning and growth in self and others

  • Curious and interested exploration

  • Open to possibility and emergence

  • Engaging with challenges as opportunities to learn and grow

Leadership A B Cs

There are many leadership ABCs (Attributes, Behaviours, Capacities) in the safe and uncertain quadrant. Here’s 12 that I think really matter:

  1. Knowing that you are not like others.

  2. Accepting that you don’t see the world accurately.

  3. Understanding that you don’t see the world fully.

  4. Getting curious about the above and engaging with it as a more productive way forward.

  5. Availability to being challenged, and inviting the same.

  6. Ability to listen. Listening for understanding, relationship and learning; rather than waiting for your turn to speak.

  7. Ability to have adult to adult conversations (which comes from doing the work to recognise and manage your ego).

  8. Living the belief that vulnerability equals courage. In self and others.

  9. Providing psychological safety for those you work for, and with.

  10. Being present to reality, rather than stuck in a story.

  11. Being kindly honest. Realising that withholding feedback isn’t kind. And, knowing how do provide it while protecting the relationship.

  12. Stepping into difficult conversations. Somebody has to start them. That somebody is you.

There is the what of leadership, and the how of leadership. Development programmes focus primarily on these. I believe what matters equally, is the who of leadership. Who are you, and what does your leadership character allow you to hold and create?

The Towards Safer Uncertainty approach makes being in uncertainty and change easier, perhaps even exciting and enjoyable. Leaders who operate from this space seem to both enjoy better results, and better experiences.

A version of the full article was published in issue three of The Learning Scientist magazine.
This is a free publication with some great content in it. You can sign up here:

If you would benefit from some help with developing your safer uncertainty practice, get in touch.



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Photo by Tuệ Nguyễn on Unsplash

Photo by Manki Kim on Unsplash

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