Being Certain About Uncertainty

by Onyeka Nchege on October 11, 2016

For many – as a result of globalization, outsourcing, contracting, downsizing, recession and even unforeseen circumstances – “job security” may seem a lot more like wishful thinking than a current truth. It’s an unfortunate reality for thousands of workers across the country and that reality is not easy to live with when we have daily reminders from the media, our peers and our personal experiences. 

A sense of “job security” provides us with a sense of certainty and that sense of certainty provides us with a sense of comfort. However, that sense of certainty, not only provides us with that warm sense of comfort, it also tends to usher stagnation and inactivity into our lives. To loosely quote something I read before, “certainty means that we have arrived at a place of static wisdom.” When you are certain about things, then you no longer have to think of creative solutions, which can divert you from innovation.     

I remember some years ago at a previous company when we announced to the IT department that our company was moving in a different technological direction. As the CIO then, I fielded so many questions from entry-level teammates to directors about each of their individual and uncertain fates. The only frustrating answer I could provide with certainty is that I didn’t know what the certain outcome was going to be for anyone, because this was a completely new venture for everyone in our organization. During this time, I made it a point to be more present, visible and accessible to everyone in our department as a help to everyone’s mental transition. 

I noticed that there were some individuals who remained very quiet during this period and that really worried me, because, though we were transitioning to a new, externally-hosted platform, we still needed people with vast Company-knowledge and broad, valuable skill sets. Many of those who were being quiet fell into that category of knowledgeable with great skill sets, and I feared that they were planning for something more certain than their uncertain futures at the company. So I made it a point to have private conversations with some of these individuals, and what I learned from each of them was interesting.

None of them were planning on leaving, at least not at that point; and none of them seemed alarmed by the uncertainty that lay ahead. They all sort of conveyed the same point about when the transition to the new platform was complete and what that meant for their individual fates. To each of them, the transition was not seen as an ending, but as a beginning of something new; and the only uncertainty was whether that something new was going to happen at that company or somewhere else.

I found the mindset of those individuals remarkable, and wanted to understand how they arrived at that perspective versus the many others who walked a very different path. As I thought of each one of them individually, I remembered why I made it a point to reach out to them. Each of these people were vastly knowledgeable and had strong skill sets, which they had made a point to nurture and grow over their years with the company. These individuals had prepared themselves for the certainty of uncertainty. 

As leaders of our lives, and in times of adversity, our perspective can be our only saving grace. Perspective allows us to view unforeseen events as obstacles or opportunities. In uncertainty,

  • We have an opportunity to impact and influence both the change and the outcome. 
  • We have an opportunity to demonstrate tenacity and purpose. 
  • We have an opportunity to continue to carry out our vision with momentum. 
  • We have an opportunity to ensure that we keep pace and stay relevant, avoiding the possibility of becoming stagnant. 

As the old adage goes, “the only thing certain in life is uncertainty.” You cannot control it, but you can control you and the way you handle it – that’s the only thing certain about uncertainty.

Take Action: How are you handling change?  

Leadership on the GO…..It’s O.N

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A recent finalist for the 2017 ORBIE CIO of the Year award, Onyeka brings more than 20 years of experience leading teams, developing strategies and building technology solutions. He has also led the creation and integration of technology solutions for a network of retail store franchises and distributors across North and Central America. Onyeka contributes to CIO Review magazine and shares his insights and experience with peers and colleagues via his own blog, Before joining Interstate Batteries in 2015, Onyeka led teams at Coca-Cola Bottling Company Consolidated, where he modernized technology practices and powered business processes for daily, on-the-street use. He is a graduate of the J. Mack Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University and currently serves on the EVANTA Dallas CIO Governing Body. If Onyeka were not at Interstate, he’d find another way to combine his three biggest passions: his faith, helping others, and, of course, information technology. Because ultimately, as he puts it, “we can’t help everyone, but everyone can always help someone.”

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Jeff Payne October 11, 2016 at 2:51 pm

Well said, Onyeka!

I embrace change and the uncertainly associated with it as I try to live my life as a “change agent” leader. I’m excited to be starting a new chapter in my professional life. I am temporarily relocating to the San Francisco area to help another company through their IT system changes. It is a very exciting and challenging time!


avatar Onyeka Nchege October 11, 2016 at 6:37 pm

Congratulations Jeff. super excited for you and your new opportunity. You are the man for the job. #GetITdone.


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