What does it mean to “absorb uncertainty”?

  • By: Scott Miller, Fresno Chamber of Commerce Board Chairman and Owner of Gazebo Gardens

I have a good friend who recently decided to take an open-ended sabbatical from a very successful tech career.  This makes me a bit jealous, as my voluntary open-ended sabbatical is not yet on the calendar…….but that’s not my point today.   This guy’s name is Sef Kloninger, and he is one of the smartest people I have ever known.  When we were kids, he would be building robots, writing software and doing other genius-level stuff while I was playing with Star Wars figurines and listening to Weird Al Yankovic on cassette tapes.  He’s THAT guy.  One of the things my friend is doing to keep his mind limber during his downtime is writing a blog (sef.kloninger.com), which consists largely of his musings about his career and life in general.  I’ve become a fan.

I apologize for taking the long road to my point.  One of Sef’s recent blog entries indicates that the proper role of a CEO is to “absorb uncertainty”.  WOW.  He attributes this nugget to Akamai CEO George Conrades, and admits that there are other citations to be found for the term on Google.  That doesn’t change the value of the message in my opinion.  I have not ever heard the role of a CEO, or leader of any kind for that matter, more elegantly described.

Uncertainty is the enemy of productivity in any business, large or small.  Our employees need clearly defined goals, reasons to believe those goals are correct, and a high degree of certainty that they will be rewarded appropriately for accomplishing them.  Whether we manage a team of two people or twenty thousand, the less uncertainty team members have, the better the result.   When leaders are unclear, confused, or fail to align rewards with strategic goals the level of uncertainty is increased.

Similarly, a manager should provide certainty to those who he (or she) is accountable to.  Whether we answer to customers or to a Board of Directors, we must provide certainty that our team’s goals will be  accomplished.  When has it ever been acceptable for a leader to blame his team for a failure?

In my business, we take care landscaping at shopping centers.  Even though I haven’t mowed a lawn in years, it is my job to provide certainty to my customers that their properties will look great.  If there is a problem, I promise it will be corrected and then work with my team to do it.  Managers have to take a “buck stops with me” attitude, or uncertainty is increased.

Uncertainty in the economy has to be mentioned in any discussion of how uncertainty affects business productivity.  When the ground is constantly shifting, and we can’t predict our payroll costs, tax expenses,   and other regulatory costs, we have trouble growing our businesses.  Elected officials, please take note – we need you to absorb our uncertainty.

So I’m grateful to Sef for his blog post.  It not only gave me a great excuse for gaining weight (I’m not eating too much, I’m just absorbing lots of uncertainty), but it gave me a new perspective on the nature of leadership.  Thanks, Dude, maybe I’ll repay the favor when I start my open-ended sabbatical.

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