Leading Through Organizational Disruptions

"Part of company culture is path development. Its the lessons you learn along the way" - Jeff Bezos

Businesses today have been facing countless organizational disruptions and a rapidly changing environment including new technologies, workforce changes, economic uncertainty and political volatility. These present new challenges to leadership and to the organization overall. So how do great leaders behave during these periods of uncertainty and disruption?

A common leadership pitfall is being reactive rather than proactive. This includes waiting for things to happen and then reacting when they don’t go according to plan. This can lead to a lot of wasted time, effort and money when things go wrong — which is why it’s so important to become more proactive and agile in managing disruptive change. 

Disruptions are inevitable but being overpowered by them is not. It can be an opportunity to learn, understand and build your organization. Leading through organizational disruptions requires creating both short and long-term strategies, communicating continuously, and learning from experience. 

Here are 8 key tips on how to lead in the face of uncertain environments:

  1. People should be #1
  2. Communicate continuously
  3. Create both short and long-term strategies
  4. Anticipate and predict what lies ahead
  5. Course-correct in real-time
  6. Listen to what you don’t want to hear
  7. Learn from experience to apply in the future
  8. Improve yourself to elevate others

It is important for leaders to be sensitive to the way their behaviour and decisions impact others. When we lead through organizational disruptions, being a good listener can help mitigate tension and create a better sense of unity among your team.


People should be #1

Your people are your greatest asset. Keep them first in your strategies and crisis navigation. People are drawn to organizations that care about them, understand them and respect them.

The best leaders are the ones who can keep their teams focused and productive during times of disruption. To do that, you need to understand how your employees feel about their work and what they want out of their careers.

That starts with knowing them as individuals, which means getting to know their strengths, weaknesses and motivations. Not just because it’s nice to do, but because those things have an impact on how they perform at work.

Keep your team and culture at the heart of your strategies and crisis navigation. This includes having regular check-ins about “wins” and challenges while being transparent about company goals and their impact on them so people feel like they have a stake in the success of the business.


Communicate continuously

In times of disruption, leaders must lead by example and set the tone for how their teams will respond. This requires them to communicate continuously, even if that communication is simply to say nothing.

Leaders should encourage two-way communication and open lines of communication during a disruption. Facilitating these conversations can help leaders gauge the level of concern, manage their teams’ stress levels, and determine what their employees need from them during this time.

Communication also plays a key role in helping employees understand what’s happening within their organization and how they can best support one another during this time. Leaders should communicate clearly, concisely, and in a timely manner during times of crisis. We need to be able to remain calm and focus on relaying pertinent information as quickly as possible while not allowing fear or panic to take hold among those who may already be stressed out due to the situation at hand.


Create both short and long-term strategies

Leading through organizational disruptions requires that you create both short and long-term strategies and be agile in in implementing them when circumstances change. The short-term strategy will help your team respond quickly to an emergency, while your long-term plan should cover how you’re going to change in order to get through this.

Short term: Assess the situation

What are the facts, who is involved and how they are affected? Understand what went wrong or right. Once you have identified the cause, it’s time to determine what steps need to be taken for your company to move forward in a positive direction.

Long-term: Plan for different scenarios

Leaders must look at their organization holistically and identify what parts of it are most vulnerable. They must then think about how those parts will fare in different situations and determine how they can best prepare for both. This means identifying skills that will be needed most and training employees accordingly. It also means creating a culture that encourages employee engagement, agility and innovation so that employees feel empowered to make changes without having to wait for leadership directives.

Leading your team through organizational disruptions is not easy, yet it’s what makes great leaders. Learn how to build trust and earn respect from your employees by leading with empathy and urgency, anticipate the future by thinking far beyond today’s environment, make quick decisions that align with a brand vision, and listen to unpopular advice when things aren’t going as planned and course-correct in real-time, learn from experience and understand that you won’t always have all of the information.


Anticipate what lies ahead

Leaders certainly want to make the right set of decisions. Strong leaders understand they will not always have all the information they might like. They know that making an imperfect decision can often be better than making no decision at all. Even if the decision needs to be “fine-tuned” for implementation, they are comfortable making it.

Anticipating disruptions means that you are using your knowledge of the past and present to help you predict how things may change in the future. You can use this predictive power to develop plans for what might happen next, as well as determine what actions should be taken to avoid or deal with them.


Course-correct in real-time

The speed at which the world is changing is accelerating. We’re seeing more and more organizations realize that they need to course-correct in real-time. Plans are rarely set in stone and often need to pivot along the way to adapt to changing landscapes and newly learned information.

Strong leaders will use a combination of real-time data along with their “gut”; the wisdom built on years of leadership experience. They’ll be able to make informed decisions based on both rational analysis and emotional intelligence — two skills that are critical in this rapidly changing world.


Listen to what you don’t want to hear

Unsuccessful leaders listen only to those who agree with them and often encourage one-dimensional thinking. The successful leader seeks out individuals who have a different perspective on an issue. They include individuals with whom they may not agree and whose advice may be contrary to that of their closest advisers.

The ability to admit mistakes and failures is key for leading through disruptions. Successful leaders welcome feedback. They seek out criticism because it helps them become better leaders. Failure is an important part of learning how to lead in crisis situations. Successful leaders recognize that they will make mistakes and they learn from those mistakes so they can avoid making those same errors again.

Allow people to question decisions. In times of crisis, it is important for leaders to allow their employees to question decisions made by management. People will feel more comfortable discussing concerns if they are able to voice them openly without fear of punishment or reprimand from management. This allows other employees to share their thoughts and ideas about how best to handle the situation at hand, which creates psychological safety and a sense of belonging.


Learn from past experiences

Apply past lessons to new and unfamiliar situations to gain perspective, identify patterns, connect the dots, and determine appropriate and timely responses

Leaders can use past experiences as a guide when planning for future changes and current challenges within their organizations by identifying what went well during previous changes or disruptions so they can replicate those successes again when planning new ones.


Improve yourself to elevate others

A leader is someone who inspires others by example. They are able to inspire others through their ability to make decisions that benefit their team members and their organization as a whole. A great leader doesn’t allow themselves to get bogged down by fear when it comes time to make decisions; instead, they remain confident in what they know is right and do what needs to be done in order for their team members’ success.

Leading through organizational disruptions is much easier when you have the right people in place, who are properly charged and motivated through a cohesive strategy. Regardless of whether your company is faced with a disruption or if it’s working to prevent one, the steps towards maintaining a positive future for your company remain the same.