Are you someone who dislikes surprises? Do chaos, messiness, and unpredictability stress you out? Do you find yourself perplexed by and just a bit envious of people who have the capacity to just “go with the flow?” I, for one, do not like surprises or messiness. I’m a planner. Some would say a control freak.

Given that I work with the most unpredictable organism imaginable – human groups – one might think that I’m in the wrong profession. From team building to meeting facilitation you go in with a plan – and then often, within the first six minutes of convening, the plan becomes obsolete. Depending on your nature and your training you can see these as inconvenient (“oh shit!”) moments or creative (“oh, that’s interesting”) opportunities.

The modern workplace is less and less predictable requiring most of us to develop flexibility and agility. But, like me, adapting in the moment may not be among your superpowers. So, what are we hyper-planners to do? Learn from creative masters, of course – improvisational actors! Here’s what they’ve taught me over the years about leading in environments where things are changing quickly.

Embrace “Yes, and…”
Rather than resisting or resenting, fully accept the facts on the ground and know that your job is to add something new rather than deny, judge, or feel inconvenienced by the new situation.

Make everyone else look good.
Invest your attention and efforts in supporting others in these moments rather than criticizing or blaming them for what they may have contributed to the situation. 

Allow yourself to be changed by what’s happening.
A surprise means you have new, unexpected information. That’s an opportunity for learning. Stay open to how new assumptions, insights, and directions might “force” you to grow.

Be fully present and engaged.
Notice your impulse to control, deny, predict, and blame your way out of a surprise. Instead, place your attention on what’s happening in the here and now. And be curious!

Serve others.
Always carry the question, “How can I best serve this situation?” Focus away from how you will look and instead on serving the greater good.

Which of these principles might be most helpful to you in staying creative and resourceful when things don’t go as expected in your world?

Photo credit: Monica Silvestre

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