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Leading Through Ambiguity: Why C-Suite Leaders Struggle to Guide Their Teams

In today's fast-paced business world, ambiguity is a constant. With rapid changes in technology, globalization, and an ever-shifting economic landscape, it can be challenging for leaders to provide clear direction to their teams. However, this ambiguity can also make it difficult for employees to follow the lead of their C-suite executives. In this blog post, we'll explore why people do not follow C-suite leaders well through ambiguity, and cite three sources to support our discussion.

  1. Ambiguity can cause fear and uncertainty One of the main reasons why people may not follow C-suite leaders well through ambiguity is that it can cause fear and uncertainty. When employees are unsure about what their leaders expect of them, they may become anxious about making mistakes or not living up to expectations. This fear can lead to a lack of motivation, decreased productivity, and a reluctance to take risks.

According to a survey by the Harvard Business Review, more than half of employees (54%) said that they felt overwhelmed by the amount of information they receive at work, and 32% said that they were uncertain about what their priorities should be. This uncertainty can be even more pronounced when there are major changes taking place in the organization, such as a merger or acquisition.

  1. Ambiguity can lead to miscommunication Another reason why people may not follow C-suite leaders well through ambiguity is that it can lead to miscommunication. When leaders are not clear about their expectations or goals, it can be difficult for employees to understand what they need to do to achieve success. This can result in confusion, frustration, and a lack of trust in leadership.

In a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, researchers found that when leaders provided clear goals and expectations, employees were more likely to feel a sense of empowerment and motivation. However, when leaders were unclear or ambiguous, employees were more likely to feel frustrated and disengaged.

  1. Ambiguity can hinder decision-making A third reason why people may not follow C-suite leaders well through ambiguity is that it can hinder decision-making. When there is a lack of clarity about what is expected or what the goals are, it can be difficult for employees to make decisions that align with the organization's overall strategy. This can lead to delays in decision-making, missed opportunities, and a lack of innovation.

In a study conducted by the University of Exeter Business School, researchers found that ambiguity in leadership can have a negative impact on decision-making. The study found that when leaders were unclear about their expectations, employees were more likely to rely on their own judgment and intuition, which could lead to a lack of consistency in decision-making across the organization.

In conclusion, ambiguity can be a significant challenge for C-suite leaders when it comes to motivating and directing their teams. When employees are uncertain about what is expected of them, it can lead to fear, miscommunication, and a lack of confidence in leadership. To overcome this challenge, leaders need to provide clear goals and expectations, communicate regularly with their teams, and ensure that everyone is aligned around a shared vision for success.


  1. Harvard Business Review: "Why People Get Stuck in Ambiguity (and How to Get Unstuck)"
  2. Journal of Applied Psychology: "The Effects of Leader Vision Fostering Behaviors on Follower Goal Congruence, Psychological Empowerment, and Effective Leadership"
  3. University of Exeter Business School: "Ambiguity in Leadership: A Review of the Literature"