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By G. Balasubramanian

The Big-bang was indeed a chaos. Out of this chaos was born planets, satellites and other astral bodies. Every disorder gives rise to a new order. “In all chaos, there is a cosmos; and in all disorder there is a secret order” says Carl Jung. How does a chaos develop or does it develop at all? “We live in a rainbow of chaos” says Paul Cezanne. From a normal perception, chaos is a disruption to an order, which might disrupt, disengage, dismantle or destroy a system. Nevertheless, the system has to recover in another form either at a macro level or at a micro level, with properties of the past or with newer perceptions. It may evolve as a completely new order with a better focus, contextual and sensitive to the current requirements, fulfilling certain needs and objectives which were essentially not embodied in its former status. Helen Harkness observes that “Chaos breeds creativity; chaos destroys the familiar. It is the bedrock that moves you forward creatively into the future.”

The chaos theory has the familiar metaphor that “’hen a butterfly flaps its wings in China, it can cause a hurricane in Texas’. So, it is fundamental to the theory that the entire universe of the system has to be considered while considering the process and the impact of the chaos. Every single ingredient of the system is impacted by the chaos and it is therefore important to understand, relate, correlate, connect and interpret the impact of each on the other while considering the chaos. Says Christopher Poindexter, “The thing about chaos is that while it disturbs us, it too, forces our hearts to roar in a way we secretly find magnificent.” Hence any chaos is not necessarily a cause of disappointment nor is a prelude or a message of a tragedy, but it brings in its womb the possibilities for a future, the ideas for a new generation, the opportunities for a new entrepreneurship.

Leading during the times of chaos is just not a simple case of crisis management. It calls for entirely different set of skills. Not all leaders can be successful during the time of chaos, either to sustain their leadership or to keep the followers in a single unit, given the physical, emotional and other trauma and turmoil they might face on such occasions.

The leader needs to maintain calm and composure

Times of chaos are occasions which will call for action from different corners of the operating universe, multiplicity of demands to be met forthwith, undefined priorities, pressure tactics from people who matter, noise from people who are attention seekers and abuses or fake communications from the opponents. A leader needs to keep his calm. The leader needs a lot of restraint, composure, skills to look at, listen to and take stock of the situation before he decides to venture in any action.

The leader should take a holistic view of the universe of operation

During times of chaos, there will be huge dissipation of attention as many would like to set differentiated priorities. The leader needs to take a holistic view of the source of the chaos, the inputs into the chaos, the sound and fury of the chaos, the resource available on hand, the defence systems that are available both human and others, the consequences of the chaos as well as action against it. The leader is likely to be tempted to engage in actions which may warrant re-engineering later, which may not be the right priorities to be addressed to and the like. Hence, the leader needs to take a holistic view of the entire universe of operation.

The leader needs to put in place a chaos management group

The second and third line of defence supporting the leader need to be passionate, engaging and willing to take responsibilities. They should be people with independent and pragmatic thinking, who inherit in themselves certain leadership qualities which empowers them to take independent and humane decisions as and when necessary, without looking for approval at every stage of their progress in the operating universe.

The leader needs to respond and not react

As chaos often is characterized by confusion and conflict, there will be innumerable situations which are provocative, unpleasant and unethical. Members in the universe of chaos who are directly or indirectly impacted by chaos may react emotionally, negatively and aggressively. The leader needs to develop the capacity to listen but, indulge in chosen actions based on his own wisdom. He should avoid reacting emotionally to any of the provocations but should certainly respond adequately and meaningfully with maturity and wisdom. It is important to note that even the body language of the teacher has to be dignified and harmonious with the verbal communication.

The leader needs to be optimistic

Henry B. Adams says, “Chaos breeds life when order breeds habit.” So, a leader needs to be optimistic and should be in a position to foresee the aftermath of the chaos. He should be able to envision and put in place an action plan, not only to manage the chaos but to resurrect at the earliest like a phoenix. “Let the chaos rein and then rein the chaos,” says Andrew S. Grove, the Hungary born pioneer in the semi-conductor industry. Optimism is not just a desire, but it is assimilation and acquisition of energy and resources for a futuristic action.

The leader needs to be courageous and forward looking

There could be several moments while facing the chaos that the leader may be urged to lose hope. A number of people with selfish interests, a few who are self-defeatists, a few who have lived cancerous within the past system, a few who want to oppose blindly to demonstrate their existence, a few who want to oppose for political or ideological reasons will be constant working directly or indirectly to defeat the leader psychologically. They will try to create a sense of helplessness and inadequacy. The leader needs to demonstrate courage and should be forward looking so that he is not withheld by the negative sentiments that exist all around.

The leader needs to be communicative

Chaos is often characterised by lack of communication, insufficient communication, improper communication and non-prioritized communication. The leader has to ensure the communication channel is robust, active, engaging and empowering. The messages need to be exercises in confidence building, non-stressful, elaborate and accurate. At the same time, it is important that the leader should have the capacity to filter sensitive information from others and ensure that vitality of the system that holds the secrecy is protected.

The leader should be able to sustain the system

When systems experience chaos, the sentiments in the system are totally destabilised. There is every possibility of the people in the system losing faith, losing confidence and losing motivation and energy. It is the duty of the leader to ensure that the motivational level of the people in the system is sustained by helping them to endure the challenges of the chaos. The leader has to facilitate them to keep their faith in the organization strong and breathe the same comfort levels as in the past. This can be done by exemplary personal relationship of the leader with the members of the team.

The leader should engage in rebuilding the system

Chaos is not an end of any system. It is only a moment of physical, emotional and social anxiety. The leader has to recognize the same and await patiently for opportunities for rebuilding the system. This would call for a fresh energy, a new entrepreneurial vision, shared vision of the people, teamwork and focused engagement. More than all of them, it requires a team of passionate people who have a fire in the belly to demonstrate and parade their skills and positive outlook.

The leader should learn from the chaos

Situations of chaos are very rare and do not occur frequently. But they are like moments of battle, when new experiences are gathered which have a great value. The leader should be able to make a record of such experiences in terms of challenges, strategies adopted, roadblocks overcome and results. Such a record has a great value at the organizational level than at a personal level. This information would help in recasting, energizing and empowering the second and third line of leaderships.

Usually, even competent leaders find themselves at crossroads while managing the chaos. They often feel they have a very limited time to manage or get over the challenges. True. But they should remember the words of Michael Altschuler, “The bad news is the time flies; but the good news is you are the pilot.”

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