Stop me if you\u2019ve heard this one before. Several economists, a bank president, and a couple of reporters walk into a bar. The economists lament, \u201cA thick fog of uncertainty still surrounds us.\u201d The bank president wails, \u201cEconomic hurricane.\u201d The reporters keen about \u201cgut-churning feelings of helplessness\u201d and \u201ca world of confusion.\u201d\n\nSitting in a booth with his hard-working direct reports, the chief information officer sighs. \u201cSame-old, same-old. Uncertainty is our jam.\u201d\n\nFor as long as there has been an IT organization, CIOs have been charged with \u201ckeeping the lights on (KTLO), delivering five-nines stability (just 5.15 minutes of downtime per year), and expanding digital capabilities in a world characterized by massive economic, political, social, and technological uncertainty.\n\nIn other words, IT leaders know there is nothing uncertain about uncertainty. After all, uncertainty is the one certainty. We should not run from uncertainty; we should embrace it. Paraphrasing poet Robert Frost, when it comes to uncertainty, there is \u201cno way out but through.\u201d\n\nWhat really drives uncertainty\n\nOne of the smartest guys on this planet, Ed Gough, formerly chief scientist and CTO at NATO Undersea Research Center (NURC) and former technical director at the US Navy\u2019s Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command, explained to me that ignorance is at the root of uncertainty.\n\nAs John Kay and Mervyn King set forth in Radical Uncertainty: Decision-Making Beyond the Numbers, \u201cUncertainty is the result of our incomplete knowledge of the world, or about the connection between our present actions and their future outcomes.\u201d\n\nThere will always be uncertainties external to the organization. But the uncertainties that do the most to destroy IT value are the self-inflicted ones.\n\nThe No. 1 source of uncertainty in the workplace is absence of strategy. Business scholars, think tanks, and some members of the media are discovering that many organizations have not explicitly stated where they want to go and how they plan to get there. To wit, two-thirds of enterprises do not have a data strategy.\n\nAnd among the companies that do have a strategy, just 14% of their employees \u201chave a good understanding of their company\u2019s strategy and direction.\u201d\n\nIt all boils down to what Warner Moore, founder and CISO at Columbus, Ohio-based Gamma Force, recently told me: \u201cUncertainty isn\u2019t the problem; lack of leadership is the problem.\u201d\n\nFocus on what matters most\n\nBusiness school is where a lot of today\u2019s business leaders learn their trade. And if you examine how business schools approach uncertainty, you can begin to see where this leadership issue takes root.\n\nIn business schools around the world, MBAs are counseled to combat uncertainty by compiling a comprehensive list of possible outcomes and then attach numerical probabilities to each scenario. This approach is untenable, as possible outcomes are infinite and assigning probabilities \u2014 subject to assumptions and biases \u2014 creates a false sense of precision.\n\nOne of the guiding principles for those who would master uncertainty is to recognize that there has always been something irresistible about advice in mathematical form. Over-reliance on metrics has given rise to the term \u201cMcNamara fallacy\u201d referring to the tragic missteps associated with the misaligned quantifications used during the Vietnam War.\n\nInstead of flailing around trying to enumerate everything that could happen, executives need to place intense scrutiny on a subset of critical uncertainties. In other words, neglect the right uncertainties.\n\nI spoke with a subset of the 75 senior IT executives attending the Digital Solutions Gallery hosted by The Ohio State University to get their thoughts about which zones of uncertainty they were focusing on. The general consensus was that one of the best places to start managing hyper-uncertainty was talent.\n\nAtlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic speaking at a \u201cmini-conference\u201d Survey of Business Uncertainty: Panel Member Economic Briefing and Policy Discussion earlier this year told attendees, \u201cFinding workers is a big problem.\u201d\n\nFinding workers might be an uncertain undertaking but retaining key performers is not. Leaders have it in their power to know what their high performers are thinking. For these key employees it is possible to paint reasonably clear pictures of what happens next.\n\nMike McSally, a human capital advisor with 20-plus years of experience in executive recruiting, does not believe recruiting has to be a problem. Reducing talent uncertainty is a simple matter of managing personal networks. McSally suggests having your top ten performers take out a yellow sheet of paper and write down \u201cthe top twenty people you have ever worked with.\u201d Give them a call.\n\nWhen you find a qualified candidate, deliver to them an authentic \u201cwhat-a-day-at-work-really-looks-like\u201d depiction of the role being filled. When that depiction aligns with your strategic vision and your company\u2019s mission, you\u2019ll have a leg up on converting that candidate to a new team member.\n\nThat kind of leadership approach will help you handle talent uncertainties, better positioning your organization for the future. I am certain of that.