As a graduate student in the early 1990s, as I prepared for one of my first global work assignments I we fortunate to be mentored by a wonderful professor who had spent a lot of time the decade prior doing a lot of work. At the time, I was curious about how she managed to navigate the ever changing waters of her work - where politics and changes abounded.
She shared with me the term “Embrace the chaos”. As I set into my next six-month assignment, which ultimately had me working globally for the better part of the next decade with different organizations, and in different locations, I realized how important the mindset of embracing the chaos would be for me as a leader.
According to Wikipedia, chaos theory in layperson’s terms is:
Chaos theory is a part of mathematics. It looks at certain systems that are very sensitive. A very small change may make the system behave completely differently. Very small changes in the starting position of a chaotic system make a big difference after a while.
So what does chaos theory have as implications for leadership:
- We may not be able to contain or constrain something, thereby looking to influence is a better approach;
- Given that different patterns may emerge, and are usually unpredictable, leading from a place of not knowing, and harnessing all wisdom or expertise in your team can be important;
- Rather than fight against the chaos – embrace it – Don’t’ spend energy on something that will be unpredictable. Change thinking and mindset to meet this rather than fight it.
For more on this topic, you may want to check out this great download Leading in Complexity What makes complexity different and how can leaders respond effectively? By Keith Johnston, Carolyn Coughlin, and Jennifer Garvey Berger May 2014 found at: https://www.cultivatingleadership.co.nz/site/uploads/Leading-in-complexity.pdf