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Navigating Strategic Ambiguity: Three Approaches for Effective Management

In today's fast-paced and ever-changing business environment, it's not uncommon for companies and units to face situations where their strategy is unclear, in flux, or constantly evolving. This lack of clarity can create challenges for managers who are tasked with leading their teams to success. However, the best managers are able to rise above the uncertainty and provide steady, realistic direction while leading with excellence.

Today we will explore three approaches that managers can use to navigate strategic ambiguity and achieve success even when the strategy isn't clear.

Take Pragmatic Action

One of the most effective ways to manage strategic ambiguity is to take pragmatic action. This involves getting back to basics and focusing on delivering value to the organization. By taking a back-to-basics approach, managers can establish a solid foundation for their team's work, even when the overall strategy is unclear. This can involve identifying key performance indicators (KPIs), streamlining processes, and focusing on the things that matter most to the organization.

Another important aspect of taking pragmatic action is placing intelligent bets on what you do know. This involves making informed decisions based on the information that is available, rather than waiting for clarity on the overall strategy. By making informed decisions, managers can help their teams stay focused and motivated, even when the bigger picture is unclear.

Managers can embrace short-term strategies by operating in sprints. This involves breaking down larger goals into smaller, more manageable tasks, and focusing on delivering results in short, focused bursts. By operating in sprints, managers can help their teams stay focused and motivated, while also delivering valuable outcomes to the organization.

Cultivate Emotional Steadiness

In addition to taking pragmatic action, managers can cultivate emotional steadiness in themselves and their teams. This involves being aware of the situation and acknowledging and navigating their emotions. By being aware of their emotions, managers can better manage their own reactions to ambiguity and uncertainty, and help their teams do the same.

Another important aspect of cultivating emotional steadiness is keeping team communication open. This involves creating a safe and supportive environment where team members feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and concerns. By keeping communication open, managers can help their teams stay informed and engaged, even when the strategy is unclear.

Managers can learn more about the situation by seeking out information and insights from others. This can involve talking to colleagues, seeking out expert advice, and staying up-to-date on industry trends and developments. By seeking out information and insights, managers can gain a better understanding of the situation and make more informed decisions.

Tap into Others' Expertise

The third approach for managing strategic ambiguity is to tap into others' expertise. This involves imagining what the leader you respect the most would do, engaging other managers, and embracing the wisdom of thought leaders. By seeking out the advice and insights of others, managers can gain a fresh perspective on the situation and identify new opportunities for growth and success.

One way to tap into others' expertise is to engage other managers in the organization. This can involve seeking out their advice, sharing best practices, and collaborating on projects and initiatives. By engaging other managers, managers can gain a better understanding of the organization's overall strategy and how their team fits into it.

Another way to tap into others' expertise is to embrace the wisdom of thought leaders. This involves seeking out the insights and advice of experts in the field, and applying their principles and practices to your own work. By embracing the wisdom of thought leaders, managers can gain a deeper understanding of the latest trends and developments in their industry, and identify new opportunities for growth and success.


Managing strategic ambiguity is a critical skill for managers in today's fast-paced and ever-changing business environment. By taking pragmatic action, cultivating emotional steadiness, and tapping into others' expertise, managers can lead their teams to success even when the strategy isn't clear. By embracing these approaches, managers can turn uncertainty into an opportunity for growth and innovation, and help their organizations thrive in a rapidly changing world. By developing the skills and mindset necessary to navigate strategic ambiguity, managers can confidently lead their teams into the unknown, and achieve great success in the face of uncertainty.


Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.



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