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Juggling in a Tornado

    What does a typical day look like for a manager?

    You stroll into work, grab a coffee, fire up your computer and take a moment to breathe. You’re ready to seize the day! Your inbox beckons, and to your surprise, only seven emails are screaming ‘urgent.’ Glancing at your calendar, you see it’s packed, and your to-do list reads like an epic novel. Your phone rings, an employee calls in sick. The winds start to stir.
    Suddenly, ‘Ding’ – a new meeting magically appears on your already jam-packed schedule. A customer wants to chat about a complaint, and an employee hands in their resignation letter. The gusts pick up.

    Your phone blinks incessantly; time to tackle those messages. There’s one from your boss, subject line: “Call me ASAP.” The gales are howling. It’s only an hour into the day, and it’s official – the tornado has landed.

    The Master Juggler

    Maybe not every day is as wild as this one, but if you’re a manager, you know the drill. Balancing the demands of the business, various departments, partners, employees, customers, and the never-ending to-do list while unexpected curveballs keep coming your way – it’s like juggling in a tornado. Even the best-laid plans often crumble under the whirlwind.

    Managers are like master jugglers. But is juggling everything really the ultimate way to lead a team? And how do your employees feel caught up in this tornado?

    I spent the better part of my career juggling away in the banking industry. Many days felt like a blur, with papers piling up, the inbox spiraling out of control, and my to-do list multiplying like rabbits. By the time I’d head home, I’d be carrying the weight of a hundred thoughts for tomorrow.

    I kept climbing the corporate ladder and landed in the busiest office in town, where chaos reigned supreme. I was sure I could handle it. My team hustled, we had great camaraderie, delivered top-notch customer service, and consistently met our goals. Success, right?

    Then, the bomb dropped.

    The Survey Shocker

    Every year, employees filled out a survey about pay, fairness, management, the company, and, yes, the work environment. And guess what? The scores for the work environment were the worst I’d ever seen.

    I was devastated! How could anyone not love working here? It’s fast-paced, fun, we’re nailing our targets, and our customers are happy! What the heck?

    After nursing my ego with a glass of wine (or a few), I finally mustered the courage to confront the survey data. Sometimes, our most humbling experiences are our greatest opportunities for growth.

    The first question I tackled was, “What’s wrong with our work environment?”

    The Consequence of Chaos

    After heart-to-heart chats with employees, a picture started to form. While I thrived in a chaotic, high-pressure environment, many employees were not thrilled with it. I realized I’d dropped a crucial ball in my juggling act – I hadn’t paid attention to how this chaotic environment affected my team.

    It was time to use three essential leadership tools: clear lenses, a spotlight, and a mirror. Here is an article on how to wield these tools for more insight.

    Here’s what I discovered:

    • Chaos was like a black hole – endless disorganization that made it tough for employees to function effectively.
    • My lack of organization contributed to the chaos. My need for speed led to mistakes because employees felt rushed. They saw me as approachable but always too busy to approach.
    • Most of my interactions with employees were reactive – answering questions, troubleshooting, and fixing problems.
    • I put customers first, but that often meant employees got the short end of the stick. Performance issues piled up, coaching fell by the wayside, turnover rose, and chaos escalated.
    • I missed signs and ignored comments from employees who were unhappy. Some quit, claiming they wanted a different career. Looking back, I wondered how many great people we’d lost due to our chaotic environment.

    To Sum It Up

    So, what’s the plan when you’re caught in the tornado?

    When a Tornado Touches Down

    One of the most challenging aspects of a managerial role is balancing leadership activities while being pulled in many directions. It’s natural to react, to dive in, and to fix things. But how many balls can you juggle at once? Even a professional juggler may do fine with juggling three balls, but adding two or three more is challenging. When a ball drops ,the rest follow, and the show is over.

    The tornado is everything swirling around you – some you can control, some you can’t. Interruptions, emergencies, and a flurry of mistakes often signal an inefficient system; something that builds up slowly.

    In my case, I made some quick fixes like tidying up my workspace and hard-scheduling critical activities such as performance management and coaching. Other solutions took time, like learning to delegate, slowing down, and letting employees handle issues on their own.

    Your situation is unique, so your solutions will be too. Start by using the three leadership tools to uncover key findings. Then, consider the following tips for managing the chaos.

    Tips for Managing in Chaos

    1. Set realistic expectations for yourself and your team. Don’t try to do it all at once. Learn to delegate effectively and drop unnecessary tasks.
    2. Stay focused on what matters in the long term. Zero in on your essential role and goals.
    3. Get organized. Clear your workspace and use tools like calendars, to-do lists and project management software.
    4. Stop Micromanaging. Give your team space to breathe and make decisions and give yourself time for critical activities.
    5. Schedule dedicated employee time. There will always be 100 things you can try and accomplish in a block of time, but if you don’t pay attention to the needs of employees, everything you ignore will compound. Enforce an inflexible time block used for coaching and performance management.
    6. Communicate openly with your team; don’t assume they share your perspective.
    7. Listen and empathize with those who are feeling overwhelmed. Understand and respect the pace employees are capable of working effectively.
    8. Check your productivity and eliminate time-wasting habits.
    9. Focus on what you can control. Many things are outside of your control, such as the number of customers that enter your business, call, or have a problem etc., but you have an idea of patterns and peak periods. Clear your schedule as much as possible on busy days. Remember, you also control how you react to interruptions and setbacks.
    10. Practice self-care and encourage others to do the same. Make sure everyone (including you) takes breaks and limits working ultra-long hours as a standard. Burnout and turnover compound the effects of an already chaotic environment.


    Attempting to undo a chaotic work environment is not an easy task and it’s not accomplished with an eye blink. The chaos expanded over time, so give yourself and your team the time to make changes.

    Remember, it’s about juggling efficiently, not abundantly, and keeping those relentless winds at bay. Yes, it’s a time investment, but it’s a commitment to your team and your effectiveness as a leader.

    Ponder Points

    How effective am I as a leader when I am working in chaos? Do I maintain composure and make sound decisions, or am I overwhelmed and reactive?

    Have I taken time to understand how a chaotic work environment affects my team? Do I recognize the signs of stress, decreased productivity, or dissatisfaction?

    Am I a contributor to a chaotic work environment or do I help calm the winds?

    What specific changes can I implement to improve the workplace environment and reduce chaos?

    Are there strategies I can adopt to provide better support for my team during turbulent times?

    Do you have tips to share about managing in chaos?

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