3 Keys To Leading In Chaos

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where the answer just wasn’t clear? Maybe it was a decision to take a new job. Maybe it was a confusing or inconsistent relationship. Maybe it was taking a risk that didn’t seem to have a clear reward.

We face tough decisions every single day. And as a leader, you’re not only facing your own decisions but also navigating the decision making for your entire team and organization.

Leaders live in a constant state of tension. We live between what is and what could be. We straddle the known and the unknown. We wrestle the probable with the possible. We balance status quo with innovation. We have to understand where we are, yet convince our teams to keep going.

If you’re anything like me, sometimes you find yourself frustrated with the complexity you face. Have you ever said things like, “Couldn’t leadership be easier for just one day? Could I please have a day when I don’t need to make a decision?”

But if all of life were clear shades of black or white—if there were no difficult decisions to be made—there would be no need for leaders. That’s the game-changing reality for us. The great tension and the great responsibility of leadership means navigating the complexity that our circumstances present. It’s what begins to define us as leaders.

When we fully embrace the reality that complexity is our playing field as leaders, it becomes a game changer for how we approach our leadership. We no longer see complexity as a frustration. We see it as an opportunity. Complexity is where our best leadership happens.

     1. Take the First Step

Embracing the tensions of leadership means being willing to go first. It requires the bravery of a first step. I think of the priests who were carrying the Ark of the Covenant and were about to cross the Jordan River. God had promised that the waters would part so they could cross over to the promised land, yet it wasn’t until their feet touched the water’s edge that the river stopped flowing and they were able to cross (Joshua 3:15–16). Joshua and the priests had to be willing to go first. When we as leaders choose to take the first step, those we lead are motivated by our confidence and faith.

     2. Face Your Fears

Embracing the tensions of leadership doesn’t mean we don’t face fear. In the complexity we face some of our greatest fearsfear of inadequacy, fear of failure, fear of criticism.

Often the difference between success and stagnation is confronting a fear. Author Parker J. Palmer wrote in his book, Let Your Life Speak, “’Be not afraid’ does not mean we cannot have fear.  Everyone has fear, and people who embrace the call to leadership often find fear abounding. Instead, the words say we do not need to be the fear we have.”

     3. Inspire Hope

Extraordinary leaders offer hope in the midst of intense circumstances. They are aware of how unsettling complexity is to their teams, and they continue to motivate and encourage them through the process. The complexity of leadership is all about seeing through the chaos and casting a compelling vision to lead people through it.

When we as leaders are following a vision directed by God, Hebrews 6:19 reminds us that we can be secure in God’s promise, and that our hope in God’s fulfillment of that promise is “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” Casting a hope-filled vision provides strength for ourselves and those we lead.

Leading in chaos takes courage, intuition, discernment, and prayer. It takes energy, patience, hope, and determination. When chaos abounds, extraordinary leaders guide the way by taking the first step, facing their fears and inspiring with hope.   

Jenni Catron

Jenni Catron is a church leader and author of the book CLOUT: Discover and Unleash Your God-Given Influence. You can follow Jenni on Twitter @JenniCatron. Excerpts of this article are from Jenni’s new book The 4 Dimensions of Extraordinary Leadership.


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