A typical situation CEOs will find themselves in is the necessity to be seen as engaging and optimistic leaders. At the same time, they will feel a responsibility to be aware of risks and will constantly be asked about these by their environment.
At a logical level, this makes sense and will seem to be quite natural. However, at a psychological level, the experience is different, and one of inconsistency. There is a feeling of discomfort and a drive to dissolve what is called cognitive dissonance. It may, for example, be experienced as a sense of lack of honesty or authenticity as a display of optimism is seen against a backdrop of pessimism. A hope for luck seems to oppose the awareness of risk.
It is a lack of comfort a leader needs to get used to. But, getting used to it isn’t sufficient, it also needs to be cared for. The leader needs to address two aspects, one is his ability to deal with the sense of discomfort and the other is to address the organization’s ability to be operational.
One’s sense of discomfort opens the door to stress and anxiety. Often the intuitive reaction to this state is to work more. What’s usually necessary, however, is the ability to have enough energy to be able to bear and regulate one’s emotions. One shouldn’t expect them to disappear. Enough energy will ease stepping into optimism and the creative and intuitive modes it implies. Optimism relies on luck, that is, on things that don’t exist yet.
Dealing with the organization and ensuring that it remains operational may mean stepping into operational tasks, however, what is mostly necessary is to step back and find use blocks of time to step into strategic thinking and reflection. It means having the time for the tasks that will enable others in the team to perform the operational tasks they are there for. It involves deciding what risks to address and which ones to leave aside. Much of it is based on analytical thinking which often focuses on existing problems and assumes that they will persist in the future. But once the map of existing risks has been laid out the work becomes one to imagine new solutions and new approaches to the situation. This goes beyond preventing risks from impacting the organization.
The ability to care for both states is what, in the long run, allows one to become accustomed to cognitive dissonance and benefit from the existing tension.