Incito Leadership and Executive Coaching


Leading Through Chaos


Chaos is a space of complete disorder and confusion. Leaders encounter chaos when things get hectic good or bad.  Chaos isn’t necessarily about crisis; it can happen anytime.  Chaos often happens when things are moving quickly or there are a lot of things happening all at once.  

What is a leader’s role in chaos?

Chaos triggers adrenaline and can keep you and your team from thinking clearly when your limbic brain takes over.  Create a vision and direction for others, help them see the other side of the chaos while also focusing your team on creating calm to allow you and your team to think clearly in decision making and executing the work to move forward.

How to move through chaos?

Here are seven essential leadership skills to move you through the chaos:

  • Trust others and trust yourself.  This might be your team members, but could also be PR professionals, your senior leadership, and expert advisors.

  • Ask for help – don’t try to be the hero, ask for help early and often.  The worst thing that could happen is that you become a bottleneck for your team. Avoid buying into leadership myths and focus on what it really takes to be an effective leader.

  • Make decisions thoughtfully but quickly. There are no wrong decisions, just next decisions.  In chaos, you want to keep moving forward and that requires timely decision making for you and your team.

  • Don’t discount your gut instinct – Malcolm Gladwell in his book Blink makes the case for trusting your intuition and evaluating gut decisions vs. evidence-based decisions and most evidence-based decisions while slower were often no better and sometimes led to worse outcomes than intuitive decision making.  Speed is of the essence.

  • Take breaks – even a two-minute step away brings mental clarity or a ten-minute walk around the block, out of the office, etc. 

  • Eat and sleep – when chaos occurs, we can get into the flow of the chaos and lose track of our personal needs which makes it hard to take care of others and think clearly. Make a conscious decision to eat and get sufficient sleep and if sufficient sleep isn’t a possibility as it can be in crisis, get as much sleep as you can even if it’s only 90 minutes at a time (which is the optimal amount of time to get a full sleep cycle in including REM and deep sleep).  When eating, focus on healthy meals especially if someone else is getting meals for you in the office.

  • Keep your composure at all costs. This means you will need all of the skills above and may need to reach out to talk to people who are on your personal support team to keep that composure.  

Finding your way through disorder when things are moving fast and faster isn’t easy.  The next time things start coming apart at the seams remember to trust, get help, pay attention to your intuition, move swiftly, take care of yourself, and stay calm.  You got this.