Leading With Existential Confidence

Designing the Future in an Era of Unprecedented Volatility and Uncertainty

By Jim Selman and Srini Pillay, M.D.

This 2022 paper by Jim Selman and Dr. Srini Pillay outlines five practices to attain and sustain existential confidence, a capability especially necessary when we find ourselves in situations that have no precedent. These practices provide us with solid ground on which to stand and design the future amidst today's uncertainty and disruption.

Our world is chaotic and unpredictable, interconnected and fast-changing. Unexpected calamities such as the pandemic convulse markets and squeeze supply chains. Interracial conflicts shake how people relate to the future. Economic disparity, income inequality, political turmoil and financial volatility escalate and continue to increase uncertainty around the globe. Existential threats from climate change and extreme weather events—droughts, floods and wildfires—also disrupt society’s normal functioning.

In the midst of such widespread disruption, windows of opportunity open and close quickly. CEOs and their leadership teams must respond with an innovative offer before a window shuts and then rapidly move capital—both financial and human—from points of low return to points of potentially higher return. Moving money with speed, accuracy and precision is not the challenge. Confidently mobilizing people to run fast with change is.

PriceWaterhouseCoopers 2019 global survey of 1,500+ chief executives revealed that only 27 percent of CEOs are “very confident” in their prospects for revenue growth, a level not seen since 2009. And according to PwC’s analysis, CEO confidence is a reliable indicator of both the direction and level of future global GDP growth.

Traditional approaches to managing change and risk are not sufficient in the current context. We propose that there is a different kind of confidence that is not grounded in the past or experience. Our model combines the latest research and insights from brain science, philosophy, organizational psychology, and ontological coaching. All these fields of inquiry revolve around questions of who are we as human beings. By intentionally bringing them together in a set of a few core practices, we offer leaders the possibility of rapidly developing themselves and their teams as effective navigators in the face of constant uncertainty and accelerating change.

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something—your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”

– Steve Jobs

Existential confidence (EC) is the “whatever”.

We believe existential confidence is a capability inherent in all human beings. Like any capability, people must be introduced to it, learn its fundamental principles, and apply them in practice in order to become fluent. This paper explains what EC is and covers five principles that, when practiced and embodied, help leaders connect with and sustain their ability to be existentially confident in a highly dynamic environment.

Full PDF Article

  • Introduction
  • A Practical Way of Being
  • The Method
  • Commit to Possibility
  • Choose How to Relate
  • Create Problems Worth Solving
  • Navigate Without Control
  • Embrace Breakdowns
  • Notes

This 2.4 MB document is 16 pages long