Leading Through the Ambiguity of Change

“The only constant in life is change.” Nowhere does this old adage seem to be more applicable than in organizations. And while change can be beneficial, necessary even, it also can entail certain “destructive” aspects. Employees are asked to abandon their routine and ways of doing things in favor of new methods and ideas. In these times of uncertainty, employees look to their leaders for guidance and clarity.


Researchers (Harvey & Kudesia, 2023) conducted a study using data from 88 teams to determine how leaders can best lead their team through ambiguity. Data were collected at three different time points from both the team leaders and employees to assess goal ambiguity, leader mindfulness, and the likelihood for experimentation from both the leader and the employees.

When leaders were faced with ambiguous goals, they were less likely to experiment in the face of change, as were their team members. However, mindfulness on the part of the leader acted as a buffer and encouraged team members to experiment and innovate during the change period. When both the leaders and the teams engaged in experimentation, team members had a better emotional reaction to the change.


Change is inevitable within organizations. Leaders can either hunker down or rise up to meet the challenges associated with change. To lead their teams most effectively through times of change, the researchers have a few recommendations for organizational leaders:

  • Create or provide mindfulness interventions for leaders. Mindful leaders can break out of their routine and engage in novel behavior, which can improve the team’s willingness to experiment and accept change.
  • Work to enhance managerial capability throughout the organization. Leaders can have a direct effect on their team members. If good leadership only exists at the top of the organization, the effect will be minimal on team members. However, if organizations can empower leaders throughout the entire organization, the benefits for team members will be substantially greater.
  • Reframe change: Rather than viewing change as something scary or to be avoided, leaders can embrace times of change as times for experimentation and the production of novel ideas.


Harvey, J. F., & Kudesia, R. S. (2023). Experimentation in the face of ambiguity: How mindful leaders develop emotional capabilities for change in teams. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 44, 573-589.

Image credit: istockphoto/Yutthana Gaetgeaw