Dr. Andrea Hollingsworth
Hollingsworth Consulting

How do you handle uncertainty when you’re a leader? What do you do when others are looking to you for answers, but you just don’t know?

Recently I heard Pamela Maynard, CEO of the tech company Avanade, share her thoughts about compassionate leadership in a world of change. She relayed a story that really struck me, and I want to share it with you.

When the Covid-19 crisis hit, Maynard had just stepped into her role as CEO at Avanade. She was fully prepared to figure out how to be the leader of a global tech company. She was not, however, prepared to figure out how to navigate a worldwide pandemic. But suddenly, she was forced to do both simultaneously.

It was a scary time. The people of Avanade were looking to Maynard for a clear and sound way forward. But she felt deeply uncertain. She knew she didn’t have the answers. And she was unwilling to feign a clear sense of surety she herself didn’t yet have.

So here’s what Maynard said to the Avanade workforce:

“I don’t have the answers. But this is the process I’ll be going through to get them. You’ll be part of it. At the end, we’ll have more clarity.”

She also told them: “This is going to get messy. Balls will be dropped. You’ll have to adjust to a new normal and lots of ambiguity. But we’ll figure this out together.”

There’s so much to love about Maynard’s approach. Five things especially stand out to me.

  • First, it’s honest. People know anyway when you don’t have the answers. There’s no sense in faking it.
  • Second, it prioritizes connection. When there’s uncertainty, people need leaders to communicate often and facilitate collaborative problem-solving, not hide behind boardroom doors.
  • Third, it’s thoughtfully proactive. Maynard didn’t let her uncertainty stymie her or force her into a rash decision. Rather, she calmly crafted a blueprint for getting to a place of clarity.
  • Fourth, it’s vulnerable. By accepting and communicating that she didn’t know, Maynard risked showing her humanity to those she was newly leading. Rather than diminish respect for her, this move increased people’s regard for and trust in her.
  • Fifth, it normalizes messiness. Amid volatility and uncertainty, there’s hardly ever a clean and clear way to a solid solution. People need reassurance that disorder is a healthy, to-be-expected part of getting to a more stable place.

Maynard allowed transparency, candor, and vulnerability to be expressions of her wisdom, strength, and trustworthiness. I find that so inspiring, and I hope you do too.

So next time you’re tempted to think, “I’m the boss, I need to have all the answers and solve all the problems,” think again. Instead, try: “I don’t know, but here’s how we’re going to find out.” My bet is that people will deem you a better, smarter leader. (Because, well, you are!)

About Andrea

Dr. Andrea Hollingsworth is Founder and CEO of Hollingsworth Consulting, author of the bestselling book The Compassion Advantage (2024), and one of today’s leading global experts on compassionate leadership. Since 2008, she has been studying, speaking, and writing about the science and spirituality of human emotions and relationships. Her articles have been published more than a dozen times in peer-reviewed journals, and she has taught at prestigious institutions like Princeton, Boston University, and Loyola University Chicago. In addition, Dr. Andrea has delivered talks to audiences at some of the top-ranked universities in the world—including Cambridge University in England and Heidelberg University in Germany.

Dr. Andrea spends most of her time inspiring leaders and teams to use The Compassion Advantage to build supercharged organizations through cultures of care— especially in times of challenge and change. Andrea lives with her family in Minnesota where she cheers hard at her son’s soccer games and relishes every opportunity to visit the north shore of Lake Superior.