Alfred E. Perlman predicted, “Learning is what most adults will do for a living in the 21st century.”

If ever there were an opportunity to learn something about leadership it’s 4Q 2008. And if you’re diligent and inquisitive you can earn an MA degree…Master of Ambiguity. [What is your capacity to deal with ambiguity?]

On the brink of the current financial crisis, United States Senator and presidential candidate John McCain offered a now famously Babbit-like bromide, “I think, still, the fundamentals of our economy are strong.”

But in fairness to McCain’s boosterism, nobody else really had a clue what was happening back in September, nor could anyone foresee the results.

But if a visionary leader had based her organization’s direction on a “fundamentally strong” economy, she might regret it today.

It’s time to look for “ambiguity leadership.” The visionary leader says to followers, “Let’s work together on how to make my vision happen.” The ambiguity leader says “Let’s work together on how we can learn what the vision should be.”

Philip Hodgson and I defined a leader’s role in our 1996 book The Future of Leadership as:

Identifying productive areas of uncertainty and confusion and leading the organization into those areas to gain competitive or other kinds of advantage.

Five years later in Relax, It’s Only Uncertainty: Lead the Way When the Way is Changing we illuminated the fact that in a situation of high uncertainty—like now—your view and approach are as relevant as anyone else’s. You’re winging it, but also you might be defining the marketplace for all competitors until the next “collapse of certainty.”

You can screw up, royally, too.

So one of the best hedges against ruin is to build a learning organization that can respond quickly to mistakes, so progressive thinking and implementation can propel you into the lead.

And if somebody says they’re certain about anything right now, get their best stock tip and do the opposite.