The Gifts of Uncertainty

Quiet Friend who has come so far,

Feel how your breathing makes more space around you.

Right here, right now.

Let this darkness be a bell tower and you the bell.

And as you ring, what batters you becomes your strength.  – Rilke

The great family therapy theorist, Murray Bowen, boiled down the human condition to two basic (and unfortunately opposite) needs – the need to be separate and the need to be connected. The fact that these are opposite reveals a number of problems as we negotiate our lives as human beings as well as thought leaders. Conflict in meeting these opposing needs is the norm. On an emotional level, these two needs translate into two drivers of our behavior. We want answers (separateness) and we want comfort (togetherness).

These are opposite but what if there was something, one thing, that could meet BOTH needs AT THE SAME TIME? Obviously, such a pursuit would be compelling. Indeed, like crack cocaine, it can even be addicting. This addictive “substance” in our society is the illusion of certainty.

When we have (or think we have) certainty, we think have all the answers. Nothing more is needed to make a decision about what to do next. At the same time, illusory certainty also provides the comfort of knowing what is coming next. We can be assured in our knowing and comforted in our present situation.

Yet, if we are honest with ourselves, the fact that this “addiction” is only providing an illusion, an escape from reality that distorts our judgement and postpones our best actions. Leaders, these days are groomed to be “risk averse.” Uncertainty is the enemy. Yet, again, if we are honest, uncertainty is the norm in leading.  Reality and unpredictable events can crash through and shatter our illusions of certainty. When this happens, as leaders we have a choice. We can try to glue the illusion back together and return ourselves and everyone we lead back into our stupors. Or, we can use the moment of clarity as an opportunity to self-define and be present in a new way.

Uncertainty itself can bring a number of gifts:

Uncertainty forces us to be present and in the present. It makes sober judgement more possible.

Uncertainty puts perspective on what we can control and what we cannot control. It can focus us on the best of our intentions.

Uncertainty is useful in helping us to be awake and grow as human beings. Reality has a way of accomplishing that.

Uncertainty allows us a solidarity and an understanding that we are all in this together. (So much for the need for team-building seminiars!)

Uncertainty can intensify a sense of urgency that allows for timely action rather than complacency.

Perhaps the next time you as a leader face the unexpected, you can relax and breathe instead of seeing this as a disaster to be managed. Perhaps you can begin to see your situation in light of the gifts of uncertainty. Perhaps you can reject the temptation to shore up the illusions of certainty; get comfortable with being uncomfortable and embrace the mystery of not having answers. Perhaps you can challenge others to do the same. In so doing a whole new world can appear with new possibilities, new challenges.

After all, seeing new horizons, vision; that’s what leadership is for!

Peace and courage,


Leave a Reply