Leading In A Time Of Complexity And Chaos (Part 1)

“Embracing complexity will not make [our] jobs easier, but it is a recognition of reality, and an idea whose time has come.” -Dr. Richard Straub

If we hadn’t previously understood the turbulent rise in the pace of change in today’s dilemma-induced world, there is probably a very good chance that you have had to come to grips with it in very recent times. As the sirens of automation, artificial intelligence, as well as the rise of the robots and the new world of work captured our attention and narrowed our focus in the disruption it stood ready to wield upon society…the world showed us how complex and chaotic it could and can be.

It also showed us how incredibly flexible, and how fragile and brittle that we as individuals, as well as our organizations, can be towards disruptive change.

Through this disruption we have begin to discover the power and importance of both internal and external networks in moving forward more relevantly in the face of great change. We have ignited a willingness to accelerate individual and organizational capacity towards a goal. We have tapped into wider support systems and evoked greater levels of empathy across our educational ecosystems. We have had to overcome our bias towards change.

And we have struggled…

We have struggled with the ambiguity, uncertainty, and unknowns created by this current challenge. We have struggled with the complexity and chaos that it has created in our personal and professional lives, as well as the lives of those around us. And we have struggled with the gaps it has revealed in our systems.

As we reflect on the urgency of the moment…

We find that in many cases, leaders currently find themselves living at the zero to five hundred foot range as they attend to the urgency of the moment, the urgency of the crisis. However, in those moments when the urgency of the moment subsides, in that reprieve, it will necessitate that leaders intentionally allow themselves time to zoom out. Not zone out, but zoom out and expand their view, moving themselves to more of a ten, twenty, even thirty thousand foot view.

To intentionally breathe in the nuances and complexity of the dilemma, of the crisis that is currently being faced…

All too often, especially in the face of sudden or disruptive change, individuals and organizations have an embedded need, you might say an internal recoil mechanism, that automatically pushes them to return to the comfort of “old ways” of doing and being. It is in the midst of this recoil, that leaders need to recognize the recoil and intentionally support their individuals and organization in adjusting and adapting to this change. Leaders need to intentionally wrangle individuals and the organization away from this internal bias towards returning to the automaticity of status quo ways.

Which will necessitate that leaders have determined proactively how to provide the capacity and space to deal more effectively with this tension that will be felt, this tension between chaos and order, complexity and simplicity, urgency and complacency, between the linear and non-linear, between the predictable and the unknown…between “old” world and “new” world ways of being, doing and working.

Leaders will need to provide the necessary space for individuals and the organization to capture the complexity of the situation, of the crisis. A space and environment to wrestle with this new and evolving tension.  

As it is only in building a deep and overarching understanding of the complexity of the dilemma, of the crisis, as well as the entirety of the system, that we can actually begin to simplify that complexity towards more effective supports and solutions in moving forward more effectively.

It is in this space and environment, that individuals and the organization determine how to begin to become more adaptable, to realize where capacity has been created and where it will need to be built up, to sense how to respond in a more agile manner, and to truly understand if we are asking the questions that will drive us towards the root cause of the dilemma being faced in order that the changes initiated will allow for a more coherent and systematic sense of improvement, for individuals as well as the organization.

Leading in today’s dilemma-filled world requires the ability to see the entirety of the system, to then recognize and embrace the complexity of that system, while finding ways, often new and novel, to continuously improve that system, while simultaneously helping those you lead and the organization as a whole gain access to that same view.

While this does not take us entirely to where we need to be, it is a beginning. A place to begin the conversation at a deeper level. A beginning to becoming more acclimated to a world where leaders don’t have all the answers, but learn to engage in deeper and better questions. A beginning to leaders learning to become much more comfortable with the complexity and chaos that inundates our organizations, both internally and externally.

A beginning to a journey…

“Complexity deals with a world far from equilibrium and is creative and evolving in ways we cannot hope to predict. It points to fundamental limits to our ability to understand, control, and manage the world, and the need for us to accept unpredictability and change” -via Alex Trosiglio


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