How Do You Lead in Times of Chaos?

Lee Stroud, Managing Partner & VP of OperationsCOVID-19 Response, Leadership, Strategic ListeningLeave a Comment

One of my core values as a leader is authenticity. I have always tried to be transparent and open with my team, no matter the circumstances.

I’m finding this particularly challenging during the COVID-19 crisis, as I work to balance being vulnerable and sharing my own fears and struggles, and also being a comfort and demonstrating stability for my team. It’s a dance, and one I’m not sure I’m executing perfectly.

I’m reminded of a seminar I attended recently called “Thriving in Chaos,” led by Corinne Hancock. (Little did I know how relevant this topic would be just a few weeks later.) In it, she shared her Chaos Ready Framework, summarized here:

1. Prepare: Clarify your mission and roles.

2. Do: Refocus on the mission and get creative.

3. Be: Consider who we are in the middle of chaos.

4. Adjust: Assess how we did and how we need to change.

My focus has been on the third component, Being. During “normal” times, we have the mental energy to focus on improvement, work through our development opportunities, and practice new ways of doing things. We are able to respond, not just react.

But when we enter particularly uncertain or scary times, we often revert back to our basic nature—our fight-or-flight response. Fear can cause us to show up less skillfully, or less thoughtfully.

While I have weekly meetings with my team, I haven’t been consistently checking in one-on-one. This is something I usually make a conscious effort to do, but during these chaotic times, I’ve been so focused on the immediate business objectives in front of me that I’ve fallen into the habit of assuming my team will reach out when they need me. As I work to hold our organization together, I’ve found that I default to managing in chaos by being task-oriented, coming up with solutions to new developments that allow me to feel a semblance of control over the situation. Proactively caring for my team in a relational way has thus fallen slightly by the wayside.

But in taking a step back—into the Adjust mode—I find that I want to look back on this time and feel that I did everything in my power to support my team professionally, financially, and personally. That I did all I could to respect others’ humanity while humbly asking for grace for my own. We’re being confronted with a myriad of things in this moment: the stress of our work, the stress of having the whole family at home all the time, the loneliness, the lack of alone time, the cabin fever, the grief…the list goes on.

Taking all that into account, I need to constantly and proactively check in with my team’s changing needs. Have I given them clear expectations for what showing up to work looks like right now? Do they have the support they need to juggle all that life is throwing our way? I won’t be perfect at doing this, but I hope that carving out the time and space to show up intentionally for my team will help me be a better leader in the future, in other chaotic times that are sure to come.

This leads me to a question I’ve been getting a lot lately: Is now really the right time to be surveying our staff? Shouldn’t we wait for the crisis to abate?

My question is, can we really afford not to? These are certainly unprecedented times, and the feedback we gather from employees will likely look very different than what we’re used to seeing. But gathering feedback now can help us understand how we’re doing during an atypical, chaotic time—and give us the opportunity to course correct. Surveying six months from now just may be too late.

As leaders, we will certainly look back on this time as a key defining moment for us. How do you want to be remembered?