The Keynote Season Part 1: Chaos? Always!

Hi, I’m Ian McLean, founder of Flow Group and GreenLine Conversations. This podcast has grown out of the chaos that’s been thrust upon us. And in it, I share the best of 25 years of helping leaders in business organizations deal and cope with change. So, as you’re out there, busy making sense of it all, trying to cope, and repurposing your organizations, I’m hoping that some of this will provide some help, some of the time.

I’ll keep it deliberately short, because I know you’re busy. Let’s dive in.

So, where were we? If this was ecclesiastical, I’d be confessing that it’s been one year. Since my last podcast episode, rather than try to reflect responsibility. The truth is that the chaos of life and work simply have intervened and taken over in the last year.

In the work context, the volume of client demands to help them navigate through change transformation, and all that goes with it has just simply intensified during the last year. And on a personal level, I’ve had two major changes. One has been the passing of my father, who I lost very, very suddenly. And secondly, there’s been a major and final home renovation and relocation project that has consumed an immense amount of time.

So, that said, apologies for the lack of contact, but the time of absence has not been wasted, I assure you. And I’m back. With an omnibus edition of a new keynote series. And the keynote series is based on various keynotes that I have been absorbed in delivering with key clients globally since the last time I posted a podcast.

So whether you want just a simple tasty morsel, or you want to binge, listen, buckle up, get ready. It’s great to be back.

It’s always struck me as peculiar that we’re born without all the answers. We die without all the answers. And yet we spend most of our lives in between looking for certainty. You see, uncertainty, chaos, and disruption are an integral component of change. And change is the most natural order of things.

Everything changes. The seasons change. The tides change. The kids change. Every cell in your body changes. There isn’t one cell in your body that was the same cell seven years ago. Fashions change. Priorities change. In fact, nothing remains the same. Chaos and uncertainty are not new. The VUCA world Emerged during the 1980s in the aftermath of the Cold War through the American Military Academy, go back 200 years earlier to the early 17 hundreds, and you’ll find that John Keats no less was talking about what he described as negative capability, which is the ability for a man to be in uncertainties, mysteries and doubts.

So why is it then, if chaos is part of change, which is the natural order of things, and it’s been with us for generations and centuries, probably for all time, how is it that the most common refrain that I’ve heard in 30 years of working with leaders and managers globally is something like this, I can’t wait for this project or this transformation to be over so that we can get back to normal.

But change and chaos is normal. The problem isn’t with chaos. The problem is with human wiring. It’s the way we’re made. And within that, we have a desire or an expectation. A desire or an expectation that’s rooted in the very core of our need to survive as a species.

You see, as human beings, we are driven by three unconscious primal fears. All fears are derivatives of the three primary ones.

The first is a fear of mortality or dying. The second is a fear of separation or abandonment. And the third is a fear of loss of control.

And it’s this third fear of losing control that gets triggered and as change accelerates around us as it does, then fears exacerbate.

The Chaos Room, as it’s described by Klaus Jensen in his Four Rooms of Change, is just part of the natural cycle that functional human beings go through. But what it’s characterised by is confusion, more questions than answers, and a feeling that the past as we knew it is gone and is not returning, and we have no full visibility or understanding of the future. So what it creates in us is a feeling and that feeling is discomfort.

So the problem isn’t with the chaos and the disruption or the uncertainty. The problem is with the fact that we’ve got a prehistoric human wiring psychologically that needs to operate in a fast-paced, ever-changing 21st-century digital world.

So having identified the problem, What is it that we can now do about it in a meaningful way as leaders responsible for leading our transformations in our lives and in the work and lives of others? Well, the first thing that great leaders do, whom I’ve worked with, is that they firstly observe and acknowledge the feeling.

and recognise that it’s natural, it’s information, and it’s also an understanding of this is part of a natural cycle and it’s where things need to be and where they should be. And if I feel a discomfort, it’s exactly what I should be feeling at this point. And that I get to be okay with not feeling okay.

You need to recognise that just like any other transition, nothing lasts. Even the feeling of discomfort, it eventually turns into something else.

So if we acknowledge the feeling of discomfort and realise that it’s okay and it’s natural and it’s where we should be, what do we do in the time before it transitions into something else?

Well, the first thing is we need to retain our own composure because during this time, everybody else is going to be looking to you. And in times of turbulence and uncertainty, nobody needs a nervous pilot. And the second thing to realise is that this is simply a stepping stone to something better.

All growth, physical, psychological, spiritual, all growth is on the other side of some discomfort. Discomfort is simply the price that you pay in advance for moving on to the next level. Think about the major advances that you’ve made in your life, the really big ones. I bet that when you look at it and examine it, it was something that at the time was triggered by adversity, that gave you the greatest teaching, the greatest learning, and the greatest instruction.

The truth is we learn more from adversity than we do in prosperity.

Working with corporate organisations in the world. One thing I’ve noticed is that this insight triggered by the whole COVID epidemic and the whole COVID experience has begun to become properly recognised and have currency in organisations and how they behave to a point where one of the largest most well-known tech companies on the planet have installed into their ways of working and their value system, the value of embrace change and look for the opportunity.

The upshot is that now, instead of. The workforce focusing on the change and how awful it is and the implications and how it’s never going to be the way it was and focusing their energy in that direction.

Instead, the expectation is that the energy will be focused on how we can leverage the current situation and what we can gain from it and how we can move through it and forward to something even better. That’s a complete departure from what normally naturally happens with the human condition and it holds true the paradox of both being able to recognise the brutal facts of the reality of the situation we’re in, whilst at the same time focusing on how we are going to ultimately triumph and prevail.

Insights include:

-It’s not You Chaos, it’s Us
-It’s our expectations, stupid
-It’s OK not to feel OK
-Embrace the Discomfort & look for the Opportunity
-How Big corporations are capitalizing on the insight

Related Episodes

Episode 53, 54, 55: Leadership in the New World (Dis)Order (Parts 1-3)
Episode 47: Chaos is the New Normal
Episode 39 – 42: Leading Teams in Chaos
Episode 26: The Leadership Contribution
Episode 25:  What is Leadership? (in Chaos)
Episode 8: Building Trust

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