I’ve come across by chance a short video interview with Tony Robbins, life coach, health guru, motivational speaker, author, self-made multimillionaire, and celebrity pal. In his typical firm and reassuring way he said something that I had in store in my own cooking for my Daily Thoughts. Speaking about the US presidential candidates, he gave his views on them in short summaries. The interview was about leadership, so the choice of topic was very pertinent. Speaking of Donald Trump, Robbins said that he provided certainty, and that in an uncertain world, people liked that, regardless. He was not saying whether that was right or wrong, just making the point that certainty was his currency. In fact, a few sentences later, he criticized what I suppose you could call Trump’s false certainty. The interpretation is mostly mine.
At the core of this simple observation one thing is very true, and this is why I’m bringing it here for this daily reflection. Certainty sells, but also, certainty is a powerful home for safety. As parents, we often project a certain world. The kids need that to feel safe, be safe. Somebody has the answers. At least for a few early years, until they figure out that there are at least fifty shades of grey in that black and white paternal certainty. But this early, safe, certainty is vital for the development of the children. At some point, of course, Father Christmas looks remarkably similar to granddad, and doubts about reality start to flourish.
You could say that certainty is a key ingredient of leadership. Robbins say so, although apparently not the Trump’s one. So, is it? Any certainty? The true one? Or, it doesn’t really matter?
It’s always said that, in times of crisis, people look for leaders with strong views, determination and drive, sense of direction and willpower. (Like the ones who invade countries?) Nobody wants hesitating, weak, simply indecisive leaders in the middle of a catastrophe. Ok, so here is another word for all those expectations: certainty.
But when certainty dominates in a way that there is no room for alternative views, we have a problem. Certainty as ‘there is one single view, and it’s not yours’, does not seem to me as a clever leadership quality. In fact, in the long term (or short? or medium? ) the power is in ‘I don’t know, let’s figure this out together, to get close to more certainty’. Or something like that.
So perhaps we have to be aware of the addictive powers of certainty. The ‘I don’t know, let’s figure this out together, to get close to more certainty School of Leadership’ is no doubt much harder. It can’t be exercised without the emotional and social intelligence needed to master the apparent vulnerability and its potential un-safe-territory effects.
For me, Certainty, capital c, whether the one of the leader with a clear destination (his) or the atheist who knows, or the people with all the answers, is of the scary type.
The fact that we are not well equipped with toolkits for an uncertain world, does not imply that we have to ban uncertainty to make our toolkits work.
Back to Tony (I am sure he would not mind I call him Tony), the irony is that he is the world master in selling certainty via his psychological, physical and social persona. And he does that very, very well.