Predictability and Change: The Seasons and Storms of Leadership

Photo by Raychel Sanner on Unsplash“. . . in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”– Benjamin Franklin

The signs of spring are upon us. Perennials are starting to break ground, trees are budding, spring training is in full swing, and we are lamenting the loss of an hour of sleep this past weekend.

That ongoing transition prompted me to recall how my life clock was set to sports seasons growing up. Summer baseball bled into fall soccer and football, then inside for the basketball season, back outside for baseball, and so on. I knew what time of year it was by what sport was in season, not necessarily by what the weather was doing. The sport season drove all my personal activities: what I watched on TV, what I read about in the newspaper, and what I talked about at school. The sports seasons provided the backdrop for most of my life’s activities and shepherded me from one year to the next.

There was comfort in that predictability, knowing what to expect from one season to the next. As an adult, the constant search for predictability shaped my Army career — predictability for my Soldiers, for my family, and for me. I sought predictability because uncertainty breeds stress, and the stress that came from the lack of predictability was evident.

I realized, however, that perfect predictability is unachievable. Life is tumultuous. Transition is hard. Change is bound to happen. Things transpire in ways that we don’t expect, and we can’t completely control our environment. Anything — from adding a new team member to the whims of the market, or from a global pandemic to a major terrorist attack — can make us feel helpless and the world unmanageable.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t aim for predictability. For there is comfort in predictability; there is prudence in leaders providing stability for our teams. I became a much more effective leader, however, when I started to balance that search for predictability with knowing how to help my team navigate the inevitable unpredictability of life.

Like seasons, our lives can have relative predictability; at the same time, unforeseen storms will disrupt our expectations and we should be ready for bad weather. As leaders, navigating change, hardship, and chaos are necessary attributes. We can replace the unattainable expectation that life will happen just how we want with the stability of good leadership and the dependability of calm and positive direction. To provide calm during the storm, consider the following:

1. Expect disruption — There are two types of plans: those that might work, and those that won’t work. Think about what to do when the plan doesn’t work.

2. Know who you are — Having clear values and a culture that operates within those values will bring clarity in crisis. Use your values as your compass.

3. Stay calm — Nothing productive will happen when you panic. A leader will set the tone for how the team will face a challenge by the way he/she responds.

4. Seek opportunities — Often, new opportunities will arise when conditions change. Be open to changing the plan and aggressively pursuing a new opportunity.

5. Have courage — Leaders have to show the way for their teams. A period of change or crisis is not the time to be passive. Be bold.

We create resiliency for ourselves and for those we lead by navigating the unknown and the unexpected. Leaders bring calm to the chaos, find reason within the unreasonable, and keep their teams focused on what’s important when the unexpected occurs. Spring will come, but we should know how to lead through that April Nor’easter.

Predictability and Change: The Seasons and Storms of Leadership was originally published in Horizon Performance on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.