The Certainty / Sincerity Divide

Many people still subscribe to a mythology of leadership that speaks of singularity, certainty and strength. This is not a relevant model for how change actually happens. In fact, it’s just bogus.  If and when you are a leader of organizational change, your most valuable currency will be your sincerity.

If we need to get out of the burning building and you know where the exit is, by all means, express your certainty. The less dramatic, in fact the laborious, repetitive, incremental, daily grind of any significant organizational change will benefit most from your sincere efforts to listen and to learn while cultivating that same kind of attention in others.

To be certain in the face of systemic change is to default to a kind of fearful simplicity. How can you know exactly what must be done and exactly how it will end up when it’s humanly impossible to do so? The fully formed adult human beings who walk through the door every day are quite good at recognizing when someone is stating something they have no right no state.

Crises like the burning building are often survived due to heroic individual efforts. Those lessons are easily romanticized and then liberally applied where they don’t belong.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

Another way to do it

Option A

Leader: “This is where we need to go, and here’s how we’re going to get there.”

Option B

Leader: “This is where we need to go. How do you think we should get there?”

Involvement, sincerely requested and respectfully considered, leads to real engagement in the work.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.