Collaborative Leadership Blog

Grounded Leadership in Chaotic Times

To paraphrase Rudyard Kipling, “It’s hard to keep your head when those around you are losing theirs.” We have moved way beyond times of rapid change. The new normal is chaos and uncertainty. The recent resignation of Gary Cohn, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, an impending global trade war, the threat of nuclear conflict with North Korea, Federal indictments of Russians who interfered in our elections, just to name a few crises, have roiled global markets, raised questions about where we’re headed, and have produced a level of insecurity we have not experienced for at least 50 years. Mounting debt in the trillions, the redistribution of wealth to the upper end of the income scale, mass shootings in our schools, and the prospects of further turmoil, have produced an environment where people we work with are anxious. It impacts their energy, well-being, focus, and level of engagement.

Business leaders need to rethink how we will lead—will we be at the “effect” of these events, or will we be “at cause” of the chaos? How can we remain grounded, centered, and focused so that the workforce can remain calm, engaged, and productive? From my work with hundreds of leaders, the key to leadership in chaotic times consistently seems to be from the inside-out. Here are 4 key dimensions of what it means to be a grounded leader.

  • Reflective & Self-Aware: Start from the inside-out, reflect on where we are at any given point in time, who we are, what our purpose and mission are, how we choose to behave, and how we can motivate and empower others
  • Leading a Culture of Values: Be crystal clear about the core values of the leadership culture we are seeking to grow and evolve—e.g. honoring the dignity of each individual and their gifts, creating an environment of psychological safety and mutual respect, and building a climate of trust
  • Having an Inspiring Vision: In times of turmoil, reiterating an inspiring vision can remind people of why they are doing what they are doing, and gives the workforce a renewed sense of purpose
  • Creating a Workplace Fit for the Human Spirit: Ultimately, it is our responsibility to create a workplace where people feel safe and respected, where they can be their best selves and do their best work

Creating a grounded leadership culture that can withstand the chaos of our times requires our full attention. It’s not business as usual anymore. We are living in a full-time reality TV show, and we have an obligation to our people to provide them air cover. Each of us is our own Chief Cultural Officer.

To that end, we must stand tall, like an oak tree, with our roots deep in the ground, honoring our values, and leading with authenticity and integrity. Then we are “at cause”. Then we are grounded.


*Dr. Edward Marshall is an Adjunct Professor in Management at the Fuqua School of Business, Duke University; he is an ICF certified executive coach, Lifetime Top 15 Trust Thought Leader, and author of Building Trust at the Speed of Change. You can contact him at or (919)265-9616