Chaos Management
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Chaos Management

Photo by:   Cesar Marrón
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By César Marrón - Cardinal Health
Director General


Let’s start with the definition of chaos, which means in its purest sense of the word, "Opposite situations of order." We could also say it is everything that is unpredictable, derived from uncertainty and the unplanned.

If I had to define the word “chaos,” I would do it simply: all problems that bring fear. This is the type of situation from which you prefer to flee and which generates distrust regarding how to solve it.

For a leader, chaos, or fear, usually results in a lot of distress. There are two types of fear: rational fear, which is logical and reactive. It is the fear that requires you to make quick decisions, sometimes even by instinct. The other fear is conditioned fear. I could almost say it is imaginary. It is defined as an incongruous situation, but you have it intact in your mind. It's very personal. It is when you know that these actions will generate these problems and, as a result, could turn into chaos. In this case, you avoid taking action for fear of what is going to happen.

In the world of organizations, many leaders say they dedicate much of their time to managing uncertainty and, above all, to what they call chaos management. In the case of some managers, this management of chaos is usually a direct consequence of the chaos of their management. This could be defined as the number of collateral problems that a leader generates when trying to solve others, real or invented, consciously or unconsciously.

Chaotic Leadership

Another aspect of chaos is the style of leadership. A chaotic leader will bring people into a meeting room and shoot down and step on ideas to create confusion and then dissension, forcing people to take sides so he can eventually have his way. He uses differences among people to get things done the way he wants them done.

I think that chaotic leadership must be a tactic but it is not a long-term strategy. If you use this style wisely, you can spark a turnaround, improve creativity and find different ways to do things when performance is linear or declining overall. But as I said, it should only be used as a tactic for a specific situation that requires “a wake-up call.”

In the same way that an authoritarian or destructive leader needs enemies to carry out his management and ends up finding them, the chaotic leader, deliberately or not, tries to generate chaos to develop the breeding ground in which he usually works.

The mental schemes of the chaotic leader have a lot to do with the fact that, in life, we finally find what we are looking for deep down, or, curiously, what we sometimes try to avoid. In this way, creating a problem to "solve" it later can have the same consequences as trying to anticipate and avoid a problem to ensure that it lasts. The prophecy of an event usually ends in the event of the prophecy.

What are the problems of a chaotic leadership style?

The human and organizational problems that chaotic leadership creates are legion and obvious. Morale plummets. Fear becomes pervasive. Turnover rises. Productivity falls. Eventually, financial results must suffer. One of the fundamental principles of chaos theory is the butterfly effect.

What is Chaos Theory?

Chaos is the science of surprises, of the nonlinear and the unpredictable. It teaches us to expect the unexpected. While most traditional science deals with supposedly predictable phenomena like gravity, electricity, or chemical reactions, chaos theory deals with nonlinear things that are effectively impossible to predict or control, like turbulence, weather, the stock market, our brain states, and so on. These phenomena are often described by fractal mathematics, which captures the infinite complexity of nature. Many natural objects exhibit fractal properties, including landscapes, rivers, clouds, trees and organs, and many of the systems in which we live exhibit complex, chaotic behavior. Recognizing the chaotic, fractal nature of our world can give us new insight, power, and wisdom.

How To Eliminate Chaos From Organization

To eliminate chaos, start small. Establish quick wins that demonstrate real value to the organization and to individual employees. From a transaction perspective, it’s important to distinguish organizational chaos stemming from a poorly managed company as opposed to organizational chaos resulting from a rapidly growing company.

Maintain Open Communications

In times of crisis, it's natural for members of an organization to feel anxiety about how they will be affected by events that are unfolding. Employees are going to want reassurance that leadership is doing everything within its power to resolve the situation. The same holds for customers.

An open channel of communication is vitally important during these scenarios. Without it, employees will quickly grow concerned, filling in the blanks with supposition and rumor, which if left unchecked, can spread rapidly and cause serious harm to morale.

Instead, acknowledge what you can (while exercising discretion connected to sensitive information) and ensure you have a system that encourages timely two-way communication. If someone has a question, make sure there is a process in place for answers.

While open communication is essential, it's also important to consider how your messages are being conveyed. Great leaders tend to have one thing in common: They are also great communicators. They understand what motivates and moves people and they know how to connect with audiences all essential qualities during a crisis.

Additional Tips for Leading in Tough Situations

Now that we've taken a closer look at some general principles of leadership under stress, let's review some of the challenges of the more common workplace new leaders often face.

Motivating employees when business is down. A business downturn is one of the most challenging situations to deal with in terms of morale. When workers feel insecure about their position, it becomes difficult to be productive at home or on the job. That's the last position any business with financial issues wants to occupy. In cases such as these, be transparent with your staff, yet also be as encouraging as possible. People will feel better if they have some sense of agency or control, so it sometimes makes sense to form problem-solving groups that can be tasked with generating new business leads, revenue sources, etc.

Dealing with negative PR. Sometimes, one person makes a mistake and it resonates throughout the entire organization. If your organization is in the public eye for the wrong reason, it's important to focus not only on public perception but also internal perception. People want to feel good about where they work; a great leader can provide that reassurance, and make sure everyone is on the same page in terms of controlling the narrative.

Losing key personnel. This is a situation that will test almost every leader, and usually sooner rather than later. Replacing a key staff member can result in the loss of expertise and institutional knowledge, affect relationships with customers and vendors and even alter the office culture. It will almost certainly result in more work for colleagues, at least in the short term. A great leader understands all of this and works to get ahead of the situation, reassuring all the key parties and making sure that workflows aren't disrupted.

Great leadership in times of chaos and crisis is invaluable, yet it's also not an innate trait. If you're a new leader, you should feel confident that you can cultivate the necessary skills to navigate any organizational challenge.

Follow the ideas outlined above and you'll be on the fast track to effective leadership.

Photo by:   Cesar Marrón

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