Comfortable With Chaos

chaosAs a father of four daughters (ages 15, 13, 9, & 7), I feel I’m qualified to speak with authority on the concept of living and dealing with chaos.

As if having children isn’t challenging enough, we are also the owners of one extremely large German Shepherd, a loving & needy Boxer, two mini Dachshunds, four feral cats, and three horses.

Needless to say, there’s never a dull moment at the Rierson household.

The reality is that all of us are dealing with ever increasing levels of chaos in all aspects of our lives.  The question becomes how do we effectively deal with the chaos and uncertainty that surrounds us.

Though I’m not an advocate of bringing gasoline to a fire and adding to the chaos, I’ve resigned my thinking and mindset that uncertainty and chaos are inevitable. Therefore I focus on how to become comfortable operating and excelling within an unpredictable chaotic environment.

I love President Eisenhower’s quote with regards to planning: “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

One of the biggest lessons learned from my ten years with the Marine Corps was that endless training and planning was less about executing flawlessly and more about being prepared to deal with the inevitable unforeseen and unpredictable.

Planning is critical for success, but you must realize your plan becomes worthless the moment you put your plan into effect. It becomes worthless because you are guaranteed to encounter something that you weren’t expecting.

Once you accept this reality you become much more effective as a leader; successful leadership demands the ability to remain flexible and making timely decisions in the face of uncertainty.

I’ve seen a handful of leaders become crushed and demoralized because their plan didn’t come to fruition.  Often their plans were overly detailed, rigid, and granular; unable to effectively deal with the unforeseen.

To counter this, we as leaders need to focus our energy on effectively communicating the overall intent and desired outcome of our plan to our people.  The details, or the “how”, of the plan need to be left to your functional leaders.

By keeping most of my focus, as the leader, on the desired outcome I therefore foster an environment of initiative, creativity, and aggressiveness for my functional leaders.

In addition to creating this environment it is imperative that you support and encourage decentralized decision-making.  In other words, once your intent is clearly communicated you need to be prepared to allow your functional leaders to make as many autonomous decisions as possible.

Without decentralized decision-making your plan becomes bogged down and overwhelmed by the inevitable unforeseen.

Remember, chaos is unavoidable.  Learn to become comfortable within a chaotic environment by:

  1. Realizing that planning is not for perfection but for the unpredictable.
  2. Communicating the intent/outcome; leave the “how” to your functional leaders.
  3. Supporting decentralized decision-making down to the absolute lowest levels.

2 comments on “Comfortable With Chaos

  1. There can not be any debate that chaos is unavoidable.
    In fact, good leaders would create and /or cause iplanned [intentional] chaos, as professed by Peter Drucker – “When you begin to fall into a pleasant routine, it is time to force yourself to do something different.”.
    Of course, all the Do’s and Dont’s of Delegation and Accountabilty have to be meticulously adhered to.

    1. Richard Rierson says:

      Great point Ashoka. I love the idea of “intentional” chaos; similar to the philosophy of the Marine Corps and their concept of Maneuver Warfare. This type of warfare demands that leaders become comfortable living within chaos but also be prepared to create a certain level of chaos to remain unpredictable to the enemy.

      Thanks for the post and sharing your thoughts.

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