We know that leaders that are indecisive can stall growth and progress in an organization. But, those that are unclear are just as harmful. Being vague, aloof or just plain unable to clearly convey a direction leaves people hanging, for which there are consequences.
Back in grad school I read a journal article about WWII and the German bombing of the UK. London of course was the primary target. After the war ended there was a research study done concerning the high number of reported cases of stomach ulcers in the London area. Actually, the bulk of the ulcers reported came from individuals that lived in the suburbs around London. And oddly, there was a very low number of ulcer cases reported from those that lived in the city of London itself.
The researcher concluded that there was a specific reason why those in the suburbs had a high rate of ulcers vs. those in the city. City dwellers were certain that if bombs fell on London that they would be impacted, hurt, killed. They were so certain that they stopped worrying about it. Those that lived in the outskirts of London weren’t so sure. They figured if the bombs hit the inner city maybe, just maybe they would live far enough away that they wouldn’t be impacted, hurt, killed. But then again, maybe they would be at risk. So, this uncertainty brought upon stomach ulcers as they suburbanites worried themselves to the point of impacting their health.
So what’s the take-away? Uncertainty is deadly to an organization. If the leaders are unclear in their messages, those following them will be uneasy to say the least. People need to know what the plan or direction is. Have you ever left a meeting unsure of what decision, if any, was made? Have you ever walked away following a discussion with the boss and not be clear on what s/he said, or decided? Uncertainty costs organizations in the form of lost productivity which of course translates negatively to the bottom line. Uncertainty in the workplace may not threaten anyone’s life, but it certainly can threaten the health and survival of the organization.