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Opinion

Ambiguity tolerance: the key to great leadership common amongst internationals
Signe Biering

January 17th, 2024


The ability to tolerate ambiguity is a measurement of great leadership – and you’ve gained it from your international career.

Signe Biering is an executive coach, trained in psychology, with a background in diplomacy. Photo: Signe Biering

How do we know what makes a good leader? Ambiguity tolerance is one common measurement. And as it happens, this quality – the ability to tolerate ambiguity – unites most internationals.

What is more, the contemporary business landscape increasingly needs such leaders, as business today has to navigate in a ‘BRINA’ landscape: BRittle, Incomprehensible, Non-lineal, and Anxious.

You, as individuals with international experience, are therefore an indispensable asset for the future of
leadership.

In my work with leaders with an international background, it has become increasingly clear that their international foundations have contributed to a tolerance for ambiguity – a traditional marker of leadership ability.

Whether adjusting to new cultures, organizational norms, changing plans, or diverse colleagues, my clients exhibit flexibility, open-mindedness, and a readiness to pivot when confronted with change.

Internationals’ ability to tolerate ambiguity is key to navigating a BRINA landscape.

The term BRINA captures many of the challenges facing the leaders I work with.

  • Brittle – seemingly stable systemic structures can crumble without warning.
  • Anxious organisations – a fear of ‘things’ breaking apart will result in lack of initiative and a demand on feeling ‘safe’.
  • Non-linear events – we have come to expect unexpected ripple effects from other parts of the world or from the past. Climate change is a good example.
  • Incomprehensible – AI is a good example of how leaders have to navigate and prepare, even if they only have a very tenuous understanding of what AI is and what its business consequences may be.

Leadership in a BRINA era must extend beyond traditional managerial skills. The leaders that are the most successful are the ones who can handle the ambiguity of it all with emotional maturity, a capacity to innovate and a commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Ambiguity-tolerant leaders view the inherent challenges contained in a diverse workforce not as a threat, but as a necessity that grows awareness – and therefore as essential in a BRINA world.

The international leaders I work with demonstrate again and again that they recognize this. These ambiguity-tolerant leaders understand that harnessing differences within their teams is an asset in a BRINA landscape. They are indispensable to forward-looking organizations who increasingly value diversity.

Their knack for seeing opportunities in equality and inclusivity, even in disagreement, contributes to their ability to take an organization to the next level.

Making full use of internationals
Ambiguity tolerance is not just a leadership competency; it’s a quality inherently developed by individuals with international experience through their exposure to diverse environments.

In a BRINA world, where adaptability and uncertainty reign supreme, I see you as internationals emerging as crucial leaders for the challenges of today and the uncertainties of tomorrow.

By embracing the unexpected and effectively navigating the intricacies of the business landscape, international professionals are essential in shaping the future of leadership.

About

Signe Biering

After 20 years in the Danish diplomatic service, including stints in India, China and Israel as deputy ambassador, Signe Biering is turning her diplomatic binoculars onto the intriguing Danes. She is an executive coach and talks about how to lead internationals in Denmark. Follow her on LinkedIn.


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