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Caring Blog

Leading in Times of Chaos

Leading in Times of ChaosI’ve been reading The Chaos Imperative: How Chance and Disruption Increase Innovation, Effectiveness and Success by Ori Brafman and Judah Pollack, and find myself indirectly discussing many of the concepts raised in this book with colleagues and healthcare leaders. The notion that chaos can create “organized serendipity” made me think about my work with Language of Caring® clients. Chaos seems to be around us in abundant quantities. The idea that new, exciting and creative ideas can come from chaos is a stretch for most of us who like some sense of order in our lives and in our organizations. I wonder what transformation lies ahead of this space we presently find ourselves in – a space that feels filled with uncertainly, inertia, and leaders’ inability to work together to help our country go forward. I wonder if the chaos we are experiencing is just what we need to get us out of the rut and for new ideas and ways to emerge. According to the authors, we should make things even more chaotic, then harness and organize that chaos. This flies in the face of conventional wisdom, as the goal of most leaders is to minimize chaos and create order and systems that standardize and create efficiencies. I love the concept proposed by the authors – contained and organized chaos creates white space, in which new ideas can emerge. Imagine what can come from this time in our country and our organizations — change that is transformative and essential to move us forward into a new way of being.

I wonder if our current leaders (me included) have the needed skills to lead in a time of chaos. Are we able to lead change – to help others go through the three stages of transition, as described by William Bridges, which starts with letting go? Before we can move forward, we need to realize that there will be a loss and consider how change will impact us and others. Quickly, we will find ourselves in the neutral zone or the “nowhere between two somewheres”. Bridges identifies this as a time of high creativity and productivity. As leaders, we need to intentionally provide time to work through this zone, which could be the white space needed to grow and move forward. Imagine how our teams can flourish when we embrace the neutral zone. Finally, we reach the “new beginnings” stage, a time of acceptance of the change.

It’s time to be different as leaders. It’s time to embrace and perhaps create some chaos, then to harness and organize that chaos so that there’s space for our teams to do something transformative. Let’s look outside of healthcare for opportunities to be different and brave and courageous enough as leaders to invite others to the conversation. Why are we so afraid? How can we find our way forward?

I would like to offer a few ideas:

As leaders, it’s our role to evolve and be ready to lead in times of uncertainty.

I welcome your comments below.


Brafman, O., & Pollack, J. (2013). The chaos imperative: How chance and disruption increase innovation, effectiveness, and success. Crown Business.

Bridges, W. (1986). Managing organizational transitions. Organizational dynamics, 15(1), 24-33.

Bridges, W., & Bridges, S. (2017). Managing transitions: Making the most of change. Da Capo Press.

Kotter, J. P. (1996). Leading change. Harvard Business Press.

Kotter, J. P. (2014). Accelerate: Building strategic agility for a faster-moving world. Harvard Business Review Press.

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Driven by a passionate commitment to strengthen humanism in healthcare, Language of Caring partners with healthcare organizations to create exceptional experiences and communities of caring through communication skill-building. Grounded in decades of experience and research, our offerings include a rich array of leadership development and support services as well as skill-building programs for staff and physicians – all designed to enhance the patient, family, and team experience.

Categories: Change and Transformation, Leadership


  1. Maree Harris says:

    Dorothy, thanks for this great reflection. I believe the capacity for reflection like you have done above is what sees us come up with answers for how we navigate this chaotic and unpredictable world we are now living and working in. Some people possibly will not manage that navigation. They will atrophy with fear, hibernate and then find themselves redundant in this new economy. Others like you (and me) will reflect, develop self-awareness, make peace with the uncertainty and unpredictability and lead from within ourselves. We will draw on well-developed personal resources to pro-actively respond and we will trust ourselves.

  2. In addition to ‘soft skill’ awareness outlined by Bridges, evidenced-based leadership assessment should be added. Healthcare organizations need to assess their ‘stage of enterprise maturity’, and then align balanced executive leader skills to those stages. This approach aligns ‘hard’ with ‘soft’ skills and increases the likelihood of organization success in a complex environment.

  3. Cindy Wilbur says:

    I agree with Brent “soft skill” awareness should be included. Great ideas to ponder. Thank you for the rather thought provoking questions.

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