Engaging Chaos Together
by Jane F. Miller

Chaos and the Anxious Class

Just look at all the downsizing, right-sizing, loss of productivity, layoffs, severance packages, re-organizations, information overload, neglected families, stress, and workplace violence - itís CHAOS! But, wait. Thereís also re-direction, re-born family values, educational access, easy to find goods and services, new occupations, challenges, community growth opportunities, new visions, technological advances, options, choices, profitsÖ itís CHAOS!

In substantiating such bold statements about the negative and positive sides of chaos, I think about the roller coaster. It doesnít matter which one - any will do. To me they are all nasty and Iíve always steered clear, very clear, of them in my life time - until last summer. My son has been riding these fast and furious demons since he could pass the height requirements at around the age of five. He and his dad would thrill in the ride together while I, with my daughter, would wave safely from the sidelines. Last summer he begged me to join him in the adventure. 

The photos snapped automatically mid-ride told the story very vividly - my face white with fright as I fought the wild, shaky, uncontrolled terror, holding on tightly to the lap bar, eyes squeezed shut and jaws set wide screaming, screaming! Chaos! My son on the other hand was the picture of sheer joy. Arms outstretched toward the glorious sunshine, hair tangling in the whipping gale force, eyes sparkling and a jubilant smile that enveloped his face from ear to ear. Chaos. "Mom," he said. "Why do you scream so much? You have to let go, let the ride take you - itís your friend. Itís not so scary if you donít let it be. Youíre missing out!" Chaos.

In these times of constant stirring, endless challenges and growing uncertainty, how can companies and organizations maintain and even boost productivity with a now troubled, insecure workforce? This group of men and women, Americaís working class, has recently been labeled the "anxious class." The economic designation of these folks has even been split from just plain "middle class" into lower-middle and middle-middle class! In the midst of their own chaos they need hope - your hope corporate America, that you and they can embrace the chaos together.

In our workshops and keynotes on embracing chaos, we start by encouraging corporations and organizations to pay some attention to this, the anxious class. Give them a gift - a golden nugget to hold and explore. Re-energize their creativity and encourage their potential to come out from hiding places. Commit to them. Reawaken their spirit. How can you do this? What is this gift? Open up the glittering package and you will find: Values, Principles, Strengths & Talents, Standards, Autonomy, Destiny, and Accountability. These are the Seven Pillars of Strength. They will serve gallantly in times of chaos. Look to them and share them with others. Enlist their services, especially on behalf of the anxious. Donít wait. 

Assist your anxious in engaging these Seven Pillars of Strength. When you do they will be able to finally face the chaos. These chaotic times, then, will seem more natural and likely because your workforce will no longer be (as) anxious. They have been given the gift of your concern for them. And, with your guidance will have created a personal foundation and support system to embrace the chaos and harness its energy! The corporationís investment in its individuals is returned through employeesí higher job satisfaction and personal fulfillment, increased productivity, unleashed creativity, willingness to commit, lower turnover and reduced hiring/re-training costs!

The Seven Pillars of Strength 

What exactly are these Seven Pillars of Strength? They are pieces of a framework that together form a structure that serves as a foundation for individuals to confidently approach each business day with creativity, innovation and confidence. Even though "job security" may be a thing of the past, an individual empowered with these Seven Pillars of Strength can fashion a personal foundation that serves as his or her own security. 

Five of these pillars encompass the wisdom, perceptions, and growth of the individual that together form the greatest personal foundation an individual could embrace - authenticity. An individualís authenticity (or for that matter, a corporationís) is a true state of being, an ability to be, based on reasons and motives of your own choosing. Authenticity then, is the result of a joyful synergy when these distinct parts are recognized and honored: Values, Principles, Strengths & Talents, Standards, and Autonomy. In our workshops individuals explore the components of their own authenticity. We accomplish this through experiential activities, reflective exercises, and group discussion. Sharing stories is another method. For example:

In October of 1994 the negative reports began coming home in my first grader's school folder. After a lengthy process and many, many months, we learned that her unacceptable behavioral effects were caused by Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD). It was then that authenticity became key for me ... In fighting to preserve my daughter's own essence - her personality and charm, her honesty and sense of right and wrong - her authenticity; we created ways she could stay true to self, and still get along in her work environment - school! My fight for her was also a fight for my own authenticity. It is said that you'll do anything to protect your kids - I did for both of us! I learned and gained my own authenticity along the way.

The sixth pillar is destiny. Destiny may emerge as oneís life plan, mission and/or vision. An individualís destiny may or may not align with a corporationís own destiny. (In our workshops, we show you how it can.) 

I was recently presented a "50-Spike" patch to add to a blue recognition blazer I had originally earned for membership recruitment. In 1990, I was the first woman in this associationís chapter to earn the coveted "Spike Award." It was easy - the association I service is awesome! The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) has a reputation for being one of the most visionary associations in the nation and internationally, too. They have a mission to serve builders and related contractors and associates in ways that help them to survive and grow. Their vision is that the small contractor shall not stand alone, but on the shoulders of fellow associates with like minds and dreams.

Working in the midst of chaos? These women and men love it! Whether lobbying for workersí comp reform, designing and promoting statewide building codes, or creating a pool of potential employees down at the Vocational School, the NAHB has a destiny - with many goals along the way. Their path changes a bit whenever an endangered species is found in a lumbering site or when a homeowner has been sold a lemon. But the main destiny remains fixed - to support those individuals and companies who are the foundation of such a strong association - each with a destiny of their own!

The seventh pillar pulls all of the others together. It is accountability. In simpler terms, it is action. But, in its truer more effective terms, it is action motivated by personal duty and of what is right. Accountability is self-directed by oneís authenticity and connection to the world. In our workshops, we look first at the flip side of accountability - acting from a victim point of reference. It works beautifully since most of us have victim stories. 

In 1992 when the corporation I was committed to began its first rounds of downsizing, we didn't know from one week to the next what was going to happen. It didn't matter whether you were a star or a slouch...so it seemed. I got myself appointed as a change facilitator, helping others through the emotions and changes that were so unknown. It was within that facilitating and coaching of others that I began to understand the idea of accountability. Similar to responsibility as far as personally meeting duties, accountability was far from just duties when we began to consider family and co-workers' lives in the whole picture. 

From that accountability, I realized that I could take my career into my own hands. Instead of sitting around in my cubicle acting like a victim, I could take a pro-active stance and own my situation. That is when I chose to leave GPU and started off on the road to self-employment. Some of my co-workers chose to stay and to see, with accountable glasses on of course, exactly what was going on as far as they could gather, and from there they would act from authenticity and accountability. The victims shuddered in the corner.

These seven pillars together create the strong and sure structure that helps organizations and its employees to embrace chaos in such a way that productivity soars and personal fulfillment is enhanced. (The number one reason why employees resign is lack of personal fulfillment.)

An Individualís Unique Pillars


An individualís values (or an organizationís for that matter) are those (intangible) things that are truly important. Values are powerful motivators that influence choices, habits, and lifestyle. When you have uncovered your true values, therein lies a set of variables to consider in every decision you make. Some values include sincerity, friends, learning, free time, family, wealth, security, peace, and so on.


The guidelines you choose for human conduct may be your principles. Principles are strong sages for the manner in which you act in any situation. Some principles may be honesty, fairness, dignity, excellence, service, growth, potential, empowerment, or patience.

Strengths & Talents-

Your inborn gifts - what youíre naturally intended to do, and your skills - what youíve become good at. Everyone has strengths and talents that enable them to do certain things and make a contribution to life. Some talents are readily noticed by others and some are not so visible. You may be athletic, artistic, confident, reliable, a speaker, a writer, an entertainer, philosopher, analyzer, spirited, dexterous, and so on.

Personal Standards-

The level of expectation or conduct that you impose and expect from yourself. How wide or narrow, high or low are the standards of your actions that what you will strive for and accept? This is your perception alone. Further, you cannot expect to see your standards in others unless they too hold similar standards.


When you know yourself - including your values, principles, strengths, talents, and standards- you can then choose rather than be chosen for. You have a sense of self direction. You are not a puppet on a string, but capable of and desiring to make the right choices. With autonomy on your side, instead of falling into the clouds you will be leaping onto a rainbow! 


What does the future look like, feel like, sound like? What are its tastes and smells? Since the particular destinations may change many times in life, reach not for the end but create a fabulous journey-your destiny. A path to destiny is an adventure with your goals as the check points and dreams as your fuel.


No victims! You see life, accept what it is or isnít, and plan your course of action based on your authenticity and acting from autonomy. Even if you whine at first, you learn to re-frame your thoughts and perceptions. You own them and go on. While you free yourself and are able to embrace chaos and engage its energy ... the victims shudder in the corner.

The key to engaging these Seven Pillars of Strength is to make them your own - define them in your own words and meanings. Use them, integrate them, check in with them daily, and align your life around them. In our workshops on embracing chaos, we begin with a thorough investigation of an individualís definition of each of these pillars. From there, the magic begins!

A note to individuals:

At this point, I must make clear to you that in discovering this wonderful person you are, you may meet with some pain and conflict. You see, a lot of people gain a false sense of self from controlling others. They want to take control of your decision making and be in control of your life. Many times these controllers are those closest to you - friends, spouse, relatives, co-workers, and your boss perhaps. By giving up your control and letting others to choose for you, you become the person they want you to be and not the person you want to be! And, when youíre not yourself, you lose the ability to embrace your pillars of strength and engage in life!

Hereís where the pain and conflict comes in. In his wonderful book about authenticity called Finding Contentment, Neil Warren Clark, Ph.D. says, "When you refuse to give these controllers the power they seek they almost always turn to punishing you in some way. They may laugh at you, exclude you, severely criticize you, withhold affection from you, or totally reject you." And that stuff hurts, doesnít it? However, it doesnít hurt near as much for that short time as it will pain you to go through your life without the contentment you could have when you practice the pillars of strength and engage chaos for life! 

This doesnít mean you should totally ignore all the people in your life. (Exception- If you are experiencing physical or mental abuse you MUST pry yourself loose and get help.) What it does mean is that you need to be committed to your efforts and stay centered. It means that with each choice that you face, you stand on your pillars of strength and look around.

Dr. Clark suggests this decision making strategy:  Check first internally with your feelings about the decision you must make. Consider external factors like what the experts think, what your family and friends think, and what the facts mean. Then you check in with your values and principles. After considering your choices using all that input and placing merit on each piece, you will be able to make a balanced, excellent decision that you will be content with! 

A little more on what others can do to support you: An organization or corporation should do its own exploration to recognize and define its own seven pillars. When the workforce can align the seven pillars with those of the company and its leaders, wow! Synergy! Embracing the chaos together creates the most effective results.

How to Engage the Pillars in Your Organization

How, in this chaotic world, do organizations help individuals to engage the Seven Pillars of Strength? These three actions are most important:

Encourage and teach leaders about the seven pillars so that they may engage their strength and serve as models to others. (Begin with our focus workshop to introduce the idea to your leadership.)

Introduce the Seven Pillars of Strength throughout the corporation, inviting all levels to grow and engage its power.

Advocate the effectiveness of the pillars and promote their application by creating an autonomy supportive environment where workers can experiment and thrive.

Hereís what to do. First know that the shadow of the leader is seen and felt. "Shadow of the Leader" is such a lasting, strong concept. What shadows are your leaders casting? Make every effort to ensure the profiles are ones your workforce wants to step into. When leaders begin to face chaos more positively, others view this and want to be able to embrace chaos, too. The lure of adventure, curiosity, risk ... all within the safety of others - thatís what the right shadow will do.

Next it is time to introduce the Seven Pillars of Strength throughout the organization - when anxious folks are wanting some of the benefits they see the leaders enjoying. They sense its value and are thus more open to meet with others to discuss the framework. They desire the knowledge that can help them make their whole life (not just work life) better. Keep it optional to attend. The anxious will begin to clamor for seats in upcoming workshops. Time to attend is freely given, of course. Attendance is encouraged without penalty. The hours spent exploring the Seven Pillars of Strength are not seen as missed work or "down time."

Finally, the efforts of all leaders - now including the workforce leaders as well - are pooled to create and maintain an environment where all can put their own blend of the pillars into action, while receiving encouragement and finding direction to do so! 

Such an autonomy-supportive atmosphere then creates intrinsic motivation, creativity, and commitment - all which lead toward more personal fulfillment, increased productivity, and loyalty to the organization. And, all leading away from low or no job satisfaction, poor performance, and indifference to the organization. Our follow up workshops are designed to assist others in keeping their pillars in tip-top shape.

Individuals and their organizations now have the ability to embrace the power of chaos - this power might appear in nature, education, technological opportunities, faith or community. Corporations and its workforce have the confidence to engage the energy of chaos - energy stored in creatures, drama, literature, the Internet, music, arts, athletics, the land - to soar wherever it is they want to go. And now, everyone has a better idea of where that destiny may lie! 

When the workforce can align the seven pillars with those of the company and its leaders, wow! Synergy! Embracing the chaos together makes us all a lot better.

Jane Miller can help your organization embrace chaos, too! Through research and interviews we design and prepare magnetic keynotes that tell the what, and practical yet inspiring workshops that provide the how-to! 

To learn how to bring this value to your organization, contact Jane Miller today! 1-888-510-2665 (ph/fax), e-mail: jane@janeswords.com or write to: One Chaotic Avenue - PO Box 1127 - Lebanon PA 17042-1127

 Many more articles on Leading Change and Creative Leadership in The CEO Refresher Archives

Copyright 1999 by Jane Miller. All rights reserved.

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