Leaders: Plan for Chaos So You Can Keep Control



In business, there are two things that are guaranteed: change and chaos. Chaos here isn’t referring to the disorganization and lawlessness of companies under bad leadership. Instead, like change, the chaos I’m talking about is the unpredictable circumstances that come with running your own company. It’s this chaos that makes the widely used phrase “expect the unexpected” so befitting of leadership.

You can show up to work every morning with a tactical to-do list for the day, but before you know it, you’re putting out multiple fires and working on projects that weren’t on your radar earlier that morning. As much as we want to excuse these hectic days as exceptions, we know they’re not. The ‘unexpected’ is the norm. And if you don’t work well in chaos, leadership might not be the career path for you.

Consider the recent pandemic. No one could have imagined that in just a few short months their entire business operations would be turned upside down. While this example may be an outlier given how severe the circumstances and impacts of this crisis have been, it’s a nod to how capricious leadership can be at times.

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These moments can be defeating, but expending your energy bemoaning the challenges of leadership won’t set you up for success. You have to accept that chaos is part of the process. Instead of letting it disrupt your day, plan for it. When you’re prepared for the unexpected, you’ll be in better control of your day, your employees, and your operations.

“No matter what, expect the unexpected. And whenever possible be the unexpected.” – Lynda Barry  

1. Plan for what you can’t control

Your company is like a sponge — it will absorb all of your time and energy if you let it. As a business owner, you must thoughtfully disperse your focus to ensure you’re dedicating your expertise to the areas of business that make the most sense. As such, it might seem a tad senseless spending time trying to plan for the unexpected. If you don’t know the exact circumstances you’re dealing with, how can you prepare a plan of action?

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Preparing for the unexpected doesn’t mean you have to nail down every meticulous detail. That would be impossible. Instead, it forces you to be flexible and deliberate about every decision you make that could impact any facet of your company, as well as any projects that you take on.

Any time you start something, begin with the conscious realization that anything could happen so you can be prepared to course correct at a moment’s notice. Some suggest scenario planning. Let’s play this out.

There is perhaps no better example than the pandemic. No leader could have fully prepared for how COVID-19 would affect their operations, but scenario planning helped some companies stay afloat because it forced them to consider how they could operate in a very different sales climate. Some leaders looked at the contingency plan they had for other natural disasters like hurricanes. Taking pages from their hurricane contingency plan and adapting for this new scenario allowed them to pivot and more easily transition people to working from home. This allowed them to focus on their clients and provide world-class client care without having to make too many internal changes.

You can never predict chaos, but if you’re adequately prepared for the unexpected, you maintain control over everything you do.

“Control what you can control. Don’t lose sleep worrying about things that you don’t have control over because, at the end of the day, you still won’t have any control over them.” – Cam Newton

2. Embrace disruption

If you ask any entrepreneur or business owner what they wanted from their company before they were responsible for its success, I’m sure their answers were rooted in feelings of security and stability. You believe that once you get your business in a good place, you can step back and let it run on autopilot.

It does get easier, but it never becomes autonomous. It shouldn’t, and for two reasons. First, consistency begets complacency. And all business owners know that this is the kiss of death for growth and profitability. Second, it’s just not possible. Every day there is a new hurdle to jump over or an issue that demands your critical eye. Chaos never stops. You’ll become a more resolute leader over time, but you will always have to deal with disruption.

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In the moment, disruption may feel futile, but it engenders change and innovation not only within your company, but your industry as well. If you believe that the chaos of leadership will one day subside, you are setting yourself up for a life of frustration. Disruption is unavoidable, but it’s also transformative. It forces you to think creatively and make radical changes within your organization that will set you up for long-term success.

Chaos is only your enemy if you never learn to control it. When you plan for disruption in every decision you make, you can command your company to surpass every milestone you’ve set out to achieve.