D Murali

How leaders find order in chaos

D. Murali | Updated on July 10, 2011

Better Under Pressure Justin Me

One of the three key attributes of leaders is finding order in chaos, writes Justin Menkes in Better Under Pressure: How great leaders bring out the best in themselves and others (www.hbr.org). The other two ‘essential and rare' attributes are realistic optimism (that is, remaining confident even while recognising the risks threatening the organisation's survival); and subservience to purpose (that is, dedicating oneself to pursue a noble cause and winning the team's commitment to that cause).

Dissecting the third attribute, what the author finds is that the successful leader can find order in chaos by maintaining clarity of thought and having the drive to solve the puzzle.

Clarity of thought: Crisis can force leaders to boil things down to the essentials of what really needs to get done in order to succeed, and then to pursue those essentials with renewed intensity, explains Menkes.

He elaborates that, rather than react to pressure by simply barking out orders and thus miss the critical leadership opportunity that crises bring, leaders should respond with confidence and focus so as to facilitate a mutual decision amongst the team to solve the problem.

The author highlights that the greatest leaders develop a high mental tolerance for the pressures associated with fast-changing, highly complex environments.

“They not only know how to keep their wits about them in such situations, but also know how to raise their level of lucidity as the pressure of the situation increases. They become more precise, for example, about setting priorities, understanding component parts, and analysing data as the circumstances become more critical.”

Drive to solve the puzzle: The second component of finding order in chaos is the drive to solve the puzzle, using which the leaders can create order from the myriad inputs around them. The drive, observes Menkes, manifests itself as an intense intellectual curiosity — a love for complex, multi-dimensional puzzles, and a pleasure in finding solutions to them.

He cautions that such conundrums can elicit intense sensations, such as a feeling of uncertain, shifting ground, frustration, anxiety, a struggle to grasp a fleeting answer to a complex question.

“But leaders who exhibit a deep trust in their ability to manage analytic processes towards a successful conclusion actually enjoy solving this type of challenge.”

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Published on July 10, 2011

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