Leadership is all about creating order from chaos.

'Chaos is inherent in all compounded things. Strive on with diligence.' ~ BuddhaClick To Tweet

My son has far more Lego than he needs. I didn’t have Lego as a child – I may be compensating. Anyone who has more than a couple of Lego sets in their home knows how quickly entropy occurs: the pieces get mixed up… the buildings and vehicles have pieces knocked off or added… there are pieces that nobody knows where they came from… and yes, the occasional clattering sound has been heard going up the vacuum cleaner (oops!).

From that point onwards, rebuilding the fire station (as per the instructions) becomes frustrating, time-consuming, if not almost impossible.

Yet, sometimes, that’s exactly what’s called for…

The same is true of any leadership situation you might find yourself in. The environment is complex, the market is fickle – they only want the fire station, not the police station or the firetruck or the fire crew training depot – and they definitely don’t want you to hand them a box full of pieces saying: “the parts are all in there somewhere”…

No. Your task is to help create some order from chaos. To take all the seemingly unrelated data: current state, client expectations, employee aspirations, skills, capabilities and resources, and to make the impossible seem possible all while ensuring that everyone has the information they need… and the tools and resources they need… to be successful.

Most people don’t like change and they don’t like uncertainty. And when they are being bombarded by data, with no apparent coherence or logic, their natural response will be to run away… to stick to what’s known… what’s safe.

That’s where you come in. Your job is to make sense of the incoherence. To explain it to others in ways they can understand. And to create an environment where it is safe for them to figure out what to do about it.

It’s all about the mindset…

When you are a victim, you give away your power. I’ve long held the view that people with a victim mindset make very poor leaders.

This is why.

A victim works hard to make their circle of control and their circle of influence as small as possible. That way, other people are to blame. Their efforts to make their influence and control as small as possible mean that virtually everything is uncontrolled and unable to be influenced – at least by them.

Order from Chaos

What does this do for the people they lead? It confirms the chaos. It exacerbates the disorder. And it breeds more victims.

On the other hand, great leaders expand and clarify their circles of control and their circles of influence. They engage in sense-making. They create time and space to reflect and grapple with the uncertainty.

Order from Chaos

As a consequence, their teams feel more secure and more optimistic. They feel better equipped to step into the unknown, and they operate in an environment of psychological safety… where it’s OK to ask questions, where it’s expected that you’ll seek reassurance when it’s needed, and where failure is an accepted (and encouraged) aspect of doing the job.

None of this necessarily means that leaders like chaos any more than anyone else… it just means they have developed tools and systems for coping (and thriving) in it. They can embrace complexity because they know it’s the only way to go…

All of which means that the best leaders appear to effortlessly – even magically – create order from chaos… and their teams wouldn’t want it any other way.


If you’re interested in learning more about how leaders create order from chaos, sign up for i3 Virtual Coaching. You’ll get a weekly email from me, packed full of amazing resources to help you take your leadership to the next level.

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