Many leaders today believe that striving for equilibrium is the key to building a healthy business. A balanced business outlook, a balanced team, and a balanced budget will result in success. No stress, no fuss, no problems, right? Wrong.
Just look at the slow decline of Sears Holdings Corp. The company has closed nearly 100 U.S. stores in the last year and will likely continue its “slow, orderly liquidation” until it goes out of business.
Despite a push toward e-commerce and introducing a customer loyalty program, Sears has been slow to adapt to shoppers’ changing tastes and is struggling to retain its shrinking customer base.
In today’s business world, change is inevitable. And if you’re only striving for equilibrium — which is all but impossible — you will merely continue doing the same thing, year after year, as the world moves on.
Borders learned this the hard way when it failed to adapt to its customers’ changing media consumption habits, first with its CD sales in the 1990s, then with online book sales and e-readers in the 2000s.
Rather than trying to bring things to a state of equilibrium, more business leaders should be embracing disequilibrium, a state of instability that puts stress on a system and the people within it. Disequilibrium is what builds strong teams, successful businesses, and ultimately, great leaders.
Why Disequilibrium Is Vital to Effective Leadership
Disequilibrium in the workplace is crucial to the development of strong leaders and strong organizations because instability is what drives innovation, creativity, and resourcefulness. It’s what turns average leaders into visionaries and average businesses into pioneers of industry.
Take Amazon, for instance. Its profit margins have always been slim because Jeff Bezos plays the long game: relentlessly serving customers and continually reinvesting in the company with disruptions such as package delivery lockers and drones.
People who are able to view disequilibrium as an opportunity (rather than a threat) will be best suited to lead in today’s business environment because an organization that leans toward chaos is primed to find creative solutions to setbacks.
Disequilibrium That Works
One of the best examples of an organization that embraces disequilibrium is the military. Its training for junior officers is designed to put them in states of stress and push them to their limits. In the end, this method develops leaders who are able to function in nebulous, high-stress situations.
So how do you become an effective leader in an unstable environment? Here are four steps to get you started:
1. Understand your role as a leader. As the leader of an organization, you are responsible for driving positive change. That means you should constantly question the way things are done, purposely throw the system off balance, and create opportunities for learning and development for yourself and others within the organization.
2. Identify what works and what doesn’t. Evaluate which aspects of the organization are continuing to add value to the business, and strive to improve upon them. At the same time, determine which aspects no longer work and do away with them — even if that means drastically changing processes and outdated traditions.
3. Constantly push against the status quo. Ronald Heifetz, co-founder of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, suggests that leaders should always seek out adaptive challenges that have no clear technical solutions and figure them out. This approach creates new and profound ways of working that move a business forward.
4. Find balance in the unstable. If everything remains stable in an organization, people grow bored, and productivity lags. However, if the state of disequilibrium becomes too great for people to deal with, they may shut down. While you should strive for instability, never allow the stress to escalate to the point that it triggers employees’ fight-or-flight response.
While many people are resistant to change, today’s leaders simply do not have that luxury. Technology and customer preferences are evolving so rapidly that the only businesses that will survive are those that are constantly adapting to changing conditions. Leaders must train themselves and their organizations to thrive in disequilibrium and embrace this constant state of flux.
Chris Cancialosi, Ph.D., is Managing Partner and Founder at gothamCulture. The team at gothamCulture focuses on identifying the underlying causes of organizational obstacles and assisting leaders in developing and executing breakthrough strategies to elevate performance.
This article was written by Chris Cancialosi from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.