Seven Ways Great Leaders Manage Through Chaos
How do great leaders manage through chaos? Which tools and best practices do they leverage in order to overcome the chaos they have to face? Is chaos inevitable? Which are the ways to circumvent it in such a way people are more confident when they encounter tough situations?
Without overarching vision, values and guidelines, organizations run the risk of expending a lot of energy in pursuit of the wrong goals.
WarningMost people are trying to do what they believe is in the best interest of the organization. The trouble is they may not have the same point of view on what that is. And that leads to chaos.
No organisation can be free of chaos. All great changes are preceded by chaos.
Companies today are continually faced with re-organizations, downsizing, layoffs, and marketplace shifts, leaving an aftermath of chaos. Chaos needs to be tackled so that the organisation’s productivity does not diminish.
The leader is the only person who can lead the way as he/she is the prime planner and decision maker, the delegator and torch-bearer.
The most effective leaders work to create an environment that will stimulate, motivate and develop people — who in turn will bring their best to work. But many otherwise qualified bosses and leaders share a need to create chaotic cultures that keep everyone in a heightened state of anxiety.
Transition is an innocuous word that may encompass a variety of situations.
Whether the transition is planned or unplanned, good leadership during a period of change means focusing on the end goal and getting the entire team onboard. More often than not, transitions feel like chaos, which is probably the most difficult state to work in.
Here’s how leaders can clear the chaos and set the stage for success.
As you see these chaotic signs within your company, it’s time to step up and take a leadership role. Here are seven ways you can do to drive change and thrive through the chaos.
Great Leaders Provide a Compass
A good leader provides a team or organization with vision, values and guidelines. These are critical to helping people make the best possible decisions and operate in a way that advances the company’s strategy and objectives.
A good leader provides clarity, decision criteria, and help in maintaining consistency across people and over time.
WarningWhen a leader fails to provide clear direction, the result is always the same: Employees struggle with ambiguity; decisions are delayed or deferred or punted upward and; politics start to become more important than principles.
Remembering what the bigger picture is, the why behind your daily motivation, can help to realign you and your team to the organization.
Hopefully, you work for the organization because you believe in what they are ultimately trying to achieve. When your team’s plans are suddenly thrust aside and you must pick up the oars and start rowing in a different direction, it can be very difficult to stay motivated.
Another thing you can do to thrive through the chaos is to improve business processes by allocating team resources, implementing project and document management tools, and templatizing documents and assets. These process solutions can improve employee morale through increased efficiency and productivity, while also driving bottom-line savings.
When the situation is chaotic, one cannot expect solutions at the drop of the hat. It takes time and the time must be utilized in using the art of storytelling.
Yes, it can help in team bonding, give clarity of the situation, visualize the harmonious future (after the current crisis is overcome) and help the leaders in conveying the message, listening and retention of the message, relate the unthinkable with reality, trigger action.
Repetition is key. Focus on the end-goal whatever happens.
You should remind your team of your long-term goals in order to minimize confusion during the short-term. As a leader, it’s critical to remain focused while also maintaining an open door to employees.
Great Leaders Stay Calm Before The Storm
Remain calm and do not show any emotional upheaval to your team. Your team will look to you to see how you handle it. If you show distress then that only will increase their level of distress. In a crisis, you must stay steady and resolute.
Lead through the chaos by leaning into the storm and taking one step forward at a time.
Keep your emotions authentic, don’t express delight with the new changes if you don’t feel it because your team will spot the lie and lose trust in you for it. Staying calm and not giving in to anger or panic doesn’t require that you suddenly become supportive of the change with no explanation.
The calm simply comes from confidence in yourself and your team.
You must believe that you can lead them through to the other side of the storm. If you don’t believe in your ability to lead them through the change then your team certainly won’t believe it.
Determine your bottom line in regard to what you can and can’t handle.
WarningEveryone needs to be able to tolerate some degree of stress and drama, but everyone has limits. When you know where your boundaries lie, you know when you have to speak up — or even walk.
If you’re reluctant about the current context or feeling overwhelmed by its possible impact, your team will feel that. Your worry will be heard in the details you translate, your tone of voice and even your body language. So start by allowing yourself to figure out the details, address your concerns and create a positive approach before transmitting to our team.
People need different things to feel safe, and it’s important to find out what matters to them. Double down on your listening to ask what people are afraid of losing.
WarningDon’t just focus on tactical communication around job security or safety; make sure you allow people to express any emotional concerns they may have. Doing this allows you to help them sort real losses from perceived ones.
Leaders over-communicate to ensure that the solution sounds like a drumbeat in people’s heads, keeping them in step and marching toward victory.
No more stovepipe communication that filters out all but what subordinate leaders think people need to know. Experienced leaders ensure that everyone has the full story and can take advantage of opportunities, learn from the challenges of others, and make decisions that align with the big picture.
Great Leaders Are Positive Minded
Your immediate plans and the immediate direction may have changed, but your long-term direction and purpose still exist. Dwelling on the difficulties you experienced during the chaos only serves to undermine the happiness and success you and your team can experience.
Change is about letting go of the resentment of losing the old way and focusing on the good that you can achieve in the new path.
One of the greatest challenges of leadership is leading your team through chaos, especially if it is an ill-managed, chaotic change that is thrust upon you and your team. If you plan on meeting goals and making you and your team’s work experience positive, then you will have to start by embracing the change yourself.
Difficult as it may be, work to stay on the side of positivity. Try to always find something good to point out and something positive to contribute.
A positive culture will enable you to actualize the highest level of performance and progress possible. Chaotic leaders invite us to see the cup as half empty instead of half full. Negative leadership leads to more negativity.
Focus on what matters. While you try to ignore what you can’t change, pick strategic battles you want to fight. This may mean that instead of being overwhelmed by large trends, you focus on a core mission. If you had to pick the top priorities for your time and energy, what rises to the top?
As we strive to achieve our goals, roadblocks and obstacles will always show up.
WarningSome will be easily overcome, while others may take a significant amount of effort and many attempts to achieve the desired outcome. A conscious decision to push forward and refuse to give up is the difference between getting a win or accepting defeat.
The bottom line is never to consider expended energy as wasted, but as energy well spent. Keep your eyes on the prize and your goals.
You will achieve and be successful if you are able to recognize your mistakes without dwelling on them. Instead, cultivate an ability to change because of them. Use your tact and creativity to be a problem solver.
Great Leaders Leverage Mistakes
A lot of time we react to chaos with an attempt to tighten up control. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work for your best employees.
People are smart, skilled, and capable. When we control them, we treat them more like children than adults.
So give them space and the ability to make their own decisions. Treat them like the adults they are.
As a leader, the best way to contain the embarrassment of making a mistake is to take full responsibility for it. But just admitting your mistake is not enough.
Go public, accept full responsibility, apologize. After that, you and even your critics will be forced to admit that no reasonable leader could do more; you will all now be ready to move on.
Be certain that, in the midst of the chaos, people will make decisions that aren’t the right ones.
WarningThey’ll put too much weight on the wrong factor, get distracted by something, or spend their time on an initiative that isn’t the most important. Instead of trying to eliminate mistakes, learn to leverage them as ways to educate your team.
Chaotic leaders tend to share a common trait: they’re quick to point out mistakes and shortcomings but slow to acknowledge even extraordinary effort or accomplishment. It’s not only devaluing but it’s the worst kind of leadership. Counteract it by acknowledging your own work and bringing attention to your teammates’ contributions.
Most leaders want their employees to be perfect, yet they do not realize that, in order for employees to learn, they have to go through several mistakes.
Just like diamonds, they have to go through several processes of polishing before they can shine. Therefore, as a leader, you cannot expect to be handed with a diamond — you have to be there in the process of making one.
You have to give your people space to commit their own mistakes.
WarningOne of the most common mistakes that leaders commit is thinking that their employees should be like them but it shouldn’t be that way. You must push your people to be more than what you have become by building key strengths as individuals.
Great Leaders Always Have a Strategy
Your job as the leader is to take a new direction, or a new strategy, and articulate to your team how that new direction still aligns with your larger purpose. Although the time for effective and positive change management has already passed in this type of situation, you still must make the best of the situation.
Your team needs to understand where the new goal is and how they are going to reach it.
You will need to lead them in honestly talking through where your team is now, where the goal is and re-plotting a detailed path to get to the goal. You will not have time to waste on lamenting the loss of your old strategy.
Extremely important tool during crisis is strategy. Strategy is generally a goal oriented long-term plan.
On the other hand, it uses a combination of organizational resources, skills and competencies to design the competitive edge. When people get a fresh reboot of planning and strategy aiming at a tangible benefit, however difficult the situation be, they act towards fixing it.
Chaotic situations create new problems that can turn into business opportunities. Some incumbents will fall and open doors for new businesses. Smart investors will continue to look for good ideas and people. Stay vigilant in seeking out options that might pay off when things return to normal.
How do all of your actions align to get your people out of this chaos and into calmer waters?
Strategy adds specificity to the vision and connects short-, intermediate-, and long-term goals and objectives. Strategy looks not just at how to execute the mission but also how to improve the organization for sustainable success.
Chaos, by definition, means that things are ambiguous, unpredictable, and out of our control. The future will reward clarity and punish certainty.
WarningWithout clear answers and known outcomes, chaos calls on leaders to trust their instincts and act decisively, but be able to pivot as needed. That means clarity is key during times of chaos and complexity, so be sure to readjust everyone’s expectations and goals.
Great Leaders Don't Like False Narratives
One of the things I see a lot when my company is in the middle of chaos is that it’s easy to get anchored with false narratives. We have to pick from choice A or B (and each has their own downsides).
In the stress of the moment, it’s easy to get tunnel vision and restrict our thinking. Don’t let that happen.
WarningStrong leadership without strong management can result in chaos and inefficiency. Strong management without strong leadership can result in tunnel vision and paralysis.
We are emotional creatures so when faced with something difficult attempt to take your emotion out of it.
Focus on the problem, or performance not the emotional strings pulling at you. However, remember there are somethings that require our emotions to be fully engaged.
Storytelling can backfire. Nothing guarantees that our stories will be self-fulfilling prophecies that lead to victory. Good leaders recognize that today’s confident projection may become tomorrow’s unfulfilled promise. In hindsight, a broken promise is easily characterized as a lie. Our narratives may fail and, if they do, the stories that once galvanized a team can sow distrust, crippling the leaders who espoused them.
When you negotiate conflicting narratives, try to gain consensus for novel approaches and insights.
Recognize that reality is a moving target, one highly susceptible to human influence as it advances unpredictably into the future. While stories begin with the past and present, more importantly, they communicate future desires.
You must be vigilant about narrative fallacy.
WarningOur bias toward sensemaking leads us to weave isolated facts into explanatory patterns, jumping to conclusions and infusing experience with logic and causation that are often imaginary and unprovable. Narrative frameworks can become blinders, screening out information that does not fit nicely with our sensible stories.
Great Leaders Are Courageous
Opportunities are around us all the time, but it’s a rare individual that truly seizes them. Mostly, we’ll spend too long fussing over making a decision, then fussing over whether it’s for us and fussing over whether we’re for it.
There’s a power that comes from developing the courage to seize opportunities.
WarningThe wildly important stuff that never gets done because there’s not time or it’s not urgent or it’s too hard or risky or terrifying — these are things we should work on if we want to move forward.
Leaders bring order to chaos and put the right measures in place to continue to move and not be immobilized with fear.
Lead with caution but leap forward with faith because that’s exactly what faith and leadership require, to move in a direction of an unknown future but keep moving forwards for the people who matter.
Courage is neither an intellectual quality, nor can it be taught in the classroom. It can only be gained through multiple experiences involving personal risk-taking. Courage comes from the heart.
Why do some leaders lack courage? Many CEOs focus too much on managing to hit their numbers.
WarningThey avoid making risky decisions that may make them look bad in the eyes of peers and external critics. Often, they eschew major decisions because they fear failure.
Courage builds capacity for taking risk. And to risk failure in the pursuit of growth and success involves vulnerability.
With courage, businesses and individuals are more willing to fail in the pursuit of success and they’re more willing to try new things because they see their failures in a positive light as learning and growth, as opposed to something negative and permanent.
Life is a constant stream of change. We can be mad about change or we can learn how to make the most of it and go forward to do good things anyway.
Smoother path means smooth work but suddenly the thread shows knots and they only get frequent with every step.
The leader and his bandwagon cannot loosen the knots as this is time consuming. They can use the bumps as stepping stones to the immediate smoother area as after all, in every chaos there is a latent harmony just like in every disorder there is a hidden order.
Once you help people embrace the chaos, you’ll notice something. They’re less stressed.
WarningChange is scary in most cases, but when it comes to someone’s job, it gets even scarier. As a manager, it’s your job to help ease the transition by limiting stress on your employees and cultivating a positive, open environment.
Don’t let your team’s story be one of defeat or distress when the chaotic storms of the workplace roll through. Lead your team through chaos and come out on the other side even stronger.
It’s amazing what we can get used to as our normal. If you learn to live and manage inside the chaotic whirlwind of running a business, you’ll find success — even if you’re not the best communicator, best strategic thinker or best manager in the world. Please feel free share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.
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