“Where There is Chaos, Seize Control”

One of my early bosses and mentors, Gail Parsons,  said this to me almost daily.

I was young and newly promoted in an HR role in the midst of a big merger. There was much organizational realignment.  Everyone had a new boss and a new team.  Most leaders were in the midst of relocating their families.

We were merging systems, polices, programs… you name it.

Every time I walked into her office with an idea, she would say the same thing: “where there is chaos…”

When I questioned the political ramifications of not getting the right buy-in she would say:

“Do we need this?  … Uh, yes.

“Is it a sound business decision?” Yes

“Do you have a strong implementation plan?”   Of course

“Is your team behind it?”  Yes

“Has anyone told you not to do it?”  No… but…

“Karin, look… by the time everyone figures out that we need to do this, your team will  already  be doing it… and have great results to prove it in.  Just do it well and tell me if you are going to break any big rules.   I’ve got your back.”


So, this weekend, I called on Gail to offer some perspective on this time in our careers–and to ask what advice she would offer to new leaders today:

 “It’s all about understanding the corporate culture.  In newly merged companies there is often the opportunity to redirect the culture in an expedient manner.  There is usually so much confusion that one can seize control while no one is looking.  Control in this scenario is about getting things done.”
“Where culture is well defined, get buy in to your ideas across, below and above organizational structure.  It is much easier to tear down than it is to build.  Be patient and resolved.”

“Where there is chaos seize control,”

A once sentence mentoring program which encouraged me to…

  • Do what needs to be done
  • Not wait
  • Take risks
  • Be empowered
  • Ask before breaking the big rules
  • Do it well
  • Have their backs


More of Gail’s advice for young leaders:

  • Focus on your work and don’t worry about posturing and self promotion.  People notice good results
  • Be observant of effective and ineffective behaviors. Recognize those which you exhibit and adjust accordingly
  • Be a good listener.  Sometimes silence can be a very effective tool especially in a confrontational situation.  When there is opportunity to speak, rely on facts and not emotions.
  • Go to where the problems are and find resolution.  Do not sidestep them.  People take  notice of strength in tough situations.
  • Build a strongly connected team. If you have remote supervision maintain regular contact with your direct reports.  Make sure everyone knows what everyone is doing.
  • Demand teamwork.  When direct reports don’t see eye to eye, tell them that their appraisals will reflect the lack of cooperation and teamwork.  It is their job to resolve their differences.
  • Respect the position even though you may not respect the individual who occupies it. We don’t get to choose our bosses.  We all work for jerks at some point in our careers.  Learn from their mistakes.
  • Maintain balance in life.  The job is not the  end all of everything.  You need to clear your head to get proper perspective.  Family, hobbies, exercise, rest and faith.  The job is just one aspect of your life.

2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Marcus on June 26, 2012 at 9:36 am

    An excellent life strategy encapsulated in another solid post. Reminds me of how I used to advise my skiing students; “lean down the mountain!” You won’t get far living life in the back seat.


  2. Posted by Dave on June 26, 2012 at 11:33 am

    Words to live by. I have used this approach a number of times and it has never failed me. It can be infectous to others as well and has turned into a “war cry” at times…. great stuff.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: