Eliminate chaos in the workplace

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To the Editor:

We live in an uncertain, chaotic world. The pace of change seems to be accelerating by the second. Technology, artificial intelligence, the environment, and a 24/7 media cycle bring us the world and all its warts at warp speed. Even our government seems to be operating and thriving on chaos. It is unsettling.

One of the first management books I read was “Thriving on Chaos” by Tom Peters. The author believes that managers need to change — and change fast — if they are going to adapt to our rapidly changing environment. In his book, Peters offered 45 prescriptions that specified what managers at every level must do if the organizations they lead are to survive. Military leaders call this V.U.C.A., or Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. Rather than lose money or go out of business, the military must deal with and understand its environment or perish. Whether it is on the battlefield or in the offices of business or government, we need leaders able to cope and lead effectively to deal with this revolution and a world that feels like it is turned upside down.

The problem with this is that human beings generally do not like change. Bottom line is that most of us are ill-equipped to deal with rapid change. Gallup reinforces this in a recent study that surveyed thousands of employees. Their responses were universal. Employees indicated they are looking for leaders who exhibit four main characteristics:

They want leaders they can trust;

They want leaders who have compassion;

They are looking for hope in their work; and

They want leaders who can deliver stability.

Nobody wants to go to work every day and find their work in a state of constant change. Employees want leaders with a steady hand on the tiller.

Our government leaders seem to have missed these four characteristics of leadership, particularly the stability factor. Being elected as change agents does not mean that change equals complete chaos. Most people view with concern the revolving door in the current White House. Key turnovers make it harder and harder to find great talent to fill the holes. Bottom line is that great talent is often unwilling to take the chance of losing their job or, even worse, being vilified by their boss. Add to the turnover the constant stream of mixed messages sent daily and the chaos accelerates. Nobody wants to wake up and find that the organization’s focus has changed. Our leaders must understand that the “command and control” environment of leadership that many of us grew up with is no longer as effective as it once was. Brute force as a leadership style can work, but it is effective with less than 50 percent of the population. I’ve never seen a productive, healthy organization that lives constantly on the edge of chaos.

There are three steps to getting healthy in dealing with chaos. First, you must trust and develop a high-quality team. Regardless of the ability of the CEO, he or she must have a strong team that can think independently and challenge the leader’s decisions. Working in an echo chamber never delivers innovation and thoughtful decisions. Culture is a key component of organizational health. Cultures that value and develop each individual are places that encourage feedback and growth. Trust remains the cornerstone of any culture. Finally, speed to action is important. We do have an environment that is rapidly changing. Leaders need to see around corners and be able to decide what is most important to change for the future.

Without a steady hand on the tiller I am certain that critical decisions and progress will not be made easily. Based on my experience, unless we focus on developing that stability, every decision and initiative will be harder and harder to execute. Getting stuff done will become impossible.

John Dame


John Dame is an executive team consultant and leadership strategist based in Pennsylvania. He founded Dame Management Strategies in 2002, serves as Vistage’s Best Practice Chair for South Central Pennsylvania, and founded JD Evolution, an annual conference that features a series of daylong events that explore critical leadership qualities. Visit his website at johndame.com.

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