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Excelling through the Chaos: A Guide for Leaders (Part 1)

As a consultant and executive coach for leaders, my passion is helping individuals and organizations thrive through the chaos. From workforce trends to changing technology to generational shifts, the Age of Disruption has just reached a new level that has impacted every single one of us.

While constant change was the norm when we rang in the 2020 New Year, now, just a few months later, a vast and unforeseen change is happening, one like we’ve never seen with the occurrence of COVID-19. This pandemic is disrupting any semblance of “business as usual” and confronting us head-on with a whole new level of uncertainty and discomfort — with no clear sign of when it will end.

The question is: How will you and your team respond?

Today I am introducing to you a practice I call Thought Streams, which I will break down for you step-by-step over this 3-part article series. The purpose of Thought Streams is to highlight recommended lines of thinking to help advise you on the action to come. They are designed to help you lead, especially in uncertain times. Investing in your Thought Streams (and not just your Work Streams) can help you maximize your potential for success, no matter what is going on around you.

It all starts with your decision making. As a leader, how you make decisions, especially in times of chaos, can make or break you. To thrive during disruption, you need to stand out as someone your team can look to as being calm, proactive, and discerning. Unfortunately, so many well-intentioned leaders make knee-jerk decisions that can worsen situations, costing time, money, and possibly the future of their business. But take heart in knowing this:

There is a better way.

Below is the first of three Thought Streams that can help you lead for a better tomorrow, even in times of unprecedented uncertainty.

Thought Stream #1: Are you validating your decisions with solid data points?

Leaders who react out of fear, panic, and assumptions don’t fare well in times of big disruption, which is why you’re going to focus on a new way of being both decisive and well-informed.

The foundation for this is your team. Train your team to be your eyes and ears, bringing you the most helpful intel of what’s happening, focusing on facts, to inform your decisions.

Discernment leads to better decision making. The data feeds the discernment.

For example, what is your team seeing and hearing from customers? Not only what are they seeing and hearing, but how can they communicate it to you most effectively?

Imagine a team member telling you, “I think X customer is upset” versus, “I think X customer is upset because they raised three issues that were escalated to their leadership.” The first scenario could lead to a series of back and forth emails, or lengthy conversation, simply to determine the data the team member is trying to share. Compare to the second scenario that paints a clear picture right from the start. You need your team to communicate helpful intel quickly: however, your team may not know how to communicate on this level unless you’ve shown them how to do this. Encourage your team to share important observations with specificity and context.

Your impact is amplified not only by your ability to source valuable data but also by how you use that data to work through a well-thought-out decision-making process.

Many leaders feel like they have to know everything in order to control everything, but the greatest leaders will come with questions.

In fact, the following question is one of the most important questions you can ask yourself as you navigate an important, urgent, or high-stakes decision(s).

What questions do we need to answer to make a well-informed decision?

I used this question a few days ago when my team and I were set to discuss how we want to manage upcoming training events for our clients, in the wake of COVID-19.

This “what questions should we ask” prompt sparked a new set of questions:

    • How do we ensure that we are practicing what we preach, balancing adaptation with a semblance of normalcy?
    • How do we balance living up to our values while supporting our customers and our community?
    • What are the financial or revenue implications?
    • Who are the people involved and what is the impact of making the proposed change?

Ultimately, this led to a productive discussion that resulted in making a decision to reschedule classes occurring within the next two weeks, to assess those for the next 2-6 weeks for the potential of being taught virtually, and to offer disruption-specific online sessions. We based this on reasoned conversations around the questions above that balanced facts with risks and speed. This simply could not have happened if we were responding from an emotional “cancel everything” or “cancel nothing” paradigm.

This could be one of the biggest lessons in times of massive disruption. The leaders who know how to ask better questions will discover better answers in times of great uncertainty.

Now you’ve learned the power of this first Thought Stream and how to implement it to generate decisions from discernment rather than fear. In my next post, I’ll share the second Thought Stream that is vital to your continued success.