There’s a Fine Line Between Change and Chaos

by | Jan 19, 2017 | Behavior, Blog Series, Change, Execution, Leadership, Management, Planning, Purpose, Team | 0 comments

This is the next entry in the Fine Line Series, highlighting the often razor-thin margin between essential and detrimental leadership behaviors. Exhibit a particular behavior and you’re a champion; overdo it just a little bit and you’re a chump. How do you know where the line between them is, and how can you avoid crossing over it? 


When it comes to change, leaders should be the tip of the spear. Leaders have a bias for change: a dissatisfaction with the inadequate status quo, a conviction about the future state and a confidence that it is attainable. This bias is healthy and needed by the organization.

But it can also get leaders into trouble. It’s easy to see change as the hammer that makes every leadership opportunity look like a nail. Overuse of change can result in big trouble, mostly when it leads to chaos in the organization.

It’s easy to see change as the hammer that makes every leadership opportunity look like a nail.

Change—even healthy change—costs. People work harder and expend more emotional energy as they discard established patterns, habits, practices, systems, values, etc. This is stressful for the organization.

Chaos occurs when change comes in waves—repeated, unexpected and relentless. People feel whipsawed; ultimately they feel used and devalued. Then they lose faith, at which point you’ve lost your leadership credibility.

They lose faith, at which point you’ve lost your leadership credibility.

“And Your Point Is…?”

The old adage that “people hate change” isn’t totally true. What is true, however, is that people grow weary of change just for change’s sake.

So What?

This is not about change management; this is about change priority. The leadership challenge comes in recognizing when you are applying the wrong priority to change. Change should ultimately result in building, not just more change. Teams implementing or responding to frequent change won’t be able to find a rhythm; they can’t hit their stride.

Change is not the answer to every organizational issue. Don’t use change when the real need is developing staff, systems, management processes, focus or planning. Most of all, don’t use change to cover up some other leadership inadequacy to avoid accountability.

The old adage that “people hate change” isn’t totally true. What is true, however, is that people grow weary of change just for change’s sake.

The Big Picture

Change is, of course, inevitable. Most people will understand and (eventually) embrace …

  1. Change initiated for the right reason
  2. The right kind (or degree) of change
  3. Change managed the right way

Miss on any of the above (especially #1 and #2) and your change initiative will likely be chaotic.

Remember: Change is not an “if” issue, it’s an issue of “when,” “how,” “how much,” and—most importantly—”why.” If you’re not clear on the “why,” rethink it.

Change is not an “if” issue, it’s an issue of “when,” “how,” “how much,” and—most importantly—”why.”

Your Next Step

How can you know when you’ve crossed the line between championing change and championing chaos?

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