Key Takeaways from the Leading through Chaos Webinar

If you missed our "Leading through Chaos" webinar, check out our short blog featuring highlights that can help with leadership takeaways.

There is no better time to be talking about leadership. If you were to Google the word leadership now, there are over 2.5 billion results. We know we need to lead our teams through adversity, but in these uncertain times, many of us are struggling in our businesses with exactly how to lead our teams through the chaos. In “Leading thru Chaos” a recent webinar hosted by Dauphin, Erik Therwanger shared his knowledge based on a lifetime of leadership and his book, The Leadership Connection: The Link Between Leading and Succeeding.

The greatest asset in any business is the people that comprise it. We know this, but the question is how do we lead them? This is the challenge that many of us are facing right now since the Coronavirus outbreak has forced us all into the world’s largest work-from-home experiment. Business survival, communication, team-building, culture, sales, vision, planning – every aspect of our businesses have been thrown into chaos and it is up to us, as leaders, to navigate our way through this.

Management and leadership are, by definition, mutually exclusive concepts.  According to Therwanger, we manage projects, but we should not try to manage people. By leading people rather than managing them, we inspire and motivate them. We need to plant leadership seeds that flourish into great unified teams.

Therwanger uses an analogy by to compare leadership styles with the use of a butter knife and a Katana sword – the latter is forged, or in other words, earned. It goes into the heat and is molded by pounding to make it sharper and stronger. Therwanger asserts that right now, during these turbulent times, is the perfect moment to sharpen our leadership blade while the fire is hot. The very reason we have leaders is to lead us through times of uncertainty.

The Three Phases of Chaos

We know we need leaders in times of chaos. Therwanger believes there are three phases of chaos. We have the initial problem itself – The Great Obstacle, next we go through the adaptation to the new normality – The Great Transition, and then the new normality itself – The Great New Era. The transition phase is the most difficult phase for any leader. This is where most people struggle. Therwanger describes the transition phase of chaos using his military background – where a very highly-trained individual is sent into a hostile environment but when they return to the new normal, adapting can be more problematic than the chaos of the hostile environment itself. During this transition phase of adaptation back to normality or the new normality, there is a range of characteristics we need to foster in order to provide good leadership:

Be the beacon of positivity – For some people in our teams, everyday life can be very negative during times of chaos, and we may be the only person offering any source of positivity. For this reason, it is essential that we keep the beacon on.

Promote forward-thinking – During times of chaos, it is very easy to get stuck, but we need to encourage people to think about the possibilities the future may hold. This helps to pull people out from under the crushing sensation that chaos can evoke.

Create a sense of urgency – There is a reason the deadline is so powerful. The sense of urgency created by a deadline catalyzes action, which is exactly what we need during chaotic times.

Promote accountability – Team accountability since the onset of remote working has been a challenge for many leaders. It was already difficult to hold people accountable for their actions and it is more so now that we are physically separated. As Therwanger suggests, to encourage accountability we need to create a sense of unification that inspires our teams to keep each other informed and posted. This article from Forbes may hold some insights into ways to promote accountability with remote teams.

Celebrate accomplishments – This is critical. During times of chaos, it is easy to overlook the achievements as our days become centered around getting things done. But if we are to exit survival mode and enter thrive mode, we need to remember that our achievements are what we are working for and as such, they should be celebrated. Even small wins.

Obstacles Serve a Purpose

In the business world, we are trained to avoid chaos. Erik Therwanger explains why in a business environment some of us fail in the face of adversity. We are not trained for and expected to go into chaos but rather our training prepares us for the norm, for tranquil conditions. When events out of our control arise, such as Covid-19, we cannot simply avoid them. Therwanger insists we have to lead our way through them, obstacles can serve a purpose, if we choose to take advantage of them. With every obstacle we overcome, we become better. Or to get stronger like the Katana sword, “We have to go into the fire.” to quote Therwanger.

Raising the Leadership Bar

Right now, we can all choose to raise our leadership bar in order to become better leaders. Therwanger suggests we review the following elements within our organizations:

Unification – Any gap in our leadership will be felt everywhere. The best place to start is at the top. Unify your leaders in order to unify your team.

Establish leadership traits – Some of the traits Therwanger mentions are justice, judgment, dependability, initiative, decisiveness, tact, integrity, enthusiasm, bearing, unselfishness, courage, knowledge, loyalty, and endurance. Are these relevant in your leadership role or can you think of others that may be more suitable for your leadership bar? Therwanger suggests choosing your top three as a starting point.

Identity – We need to ask and remind ourselves and our teams who we are as an organization. More often than not, corporations don’t have their mission statement, vision statement, and core values clearly defined, which means the people we work with have unclear guidelines as to what we are working towards. Therwanger suggests starting your next meeting by going over these points to help steer your team towards your organization’s goals.

Future goals promote forward-thinking and give our teams a common objective to work towards, together. This is what differentiates a group from a team. A unified team looks out for each other, working together to achieve things as a unified body.

If you feel that your team and organization can do better, a good place to start is by forming a set of goals with your team, rather than for your team. This is never easy during times of chaos, but it is absolutely necessary. Taking into account the ideas of others can make a great impact. We can all be relevant in our businesses as leaders by following one or more of these successful behaviors:

Go headfirst into the challenge – Go into the fire. Stay true to your vision as you do so. In order to establish yourself as a leader, your team needs to see that you are not afraid to take on a challenge. The key here is a balance between fearlessness and empathy. You don’t have to be a dictator to lead.

Foster a lifestyle of leadership – People have to want to follow you. This is where the trait of empathy will assist. If people know you believe in them, people are more likely to respect you as a leader and you can influence them for the greater good.

Crystal-clear communication – To minimize misunderstandings. When a problem arises, you don’t have to avoid sharing that with your team. What you can do, however, is communicate your message, add on some impactful words to energize your message, and empower your team in the face of adversity.

There is one thing that Therwanger believes precedes all of this other advice. That thing comes in the shape of five words – make the decision to lead. Whether you’re in an executive position or cleaning the office at the end of a long day, if we show up thinking and acting as leaders, we can ride the storm of chaos and come out the other side much stronger.


Relevant Sources Compilation

The main source for this article was the webinar Leading thru Chaos, hosted by the speaker Erik Therwanger. You can find out more about Erik here. The webinar was based on his book, The Leadership Connection: The Link Between Leading and Succeeding.

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