How to manage change, complexity and risk

How to Manage Change, Complexity and Risk

How confident are you in managing change? Are you comfortable taking risks? How often do you take yourself to the edge of who you are and what you believe you are capable of? Gaining clarity and understanding, whilst being able to evaluate change and risk is crucial to managing in today’s VUCA world (one that is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous).  

Managing in a VUCA world is now essential

In DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast 2014/151, less than 33% of leaders said they were either “highly confident” or “very confident” in their ability to meet the four VUCA challenges:

  • Anticipating and reacting to the volatile nature and speed of change.
  • Acting decisively in uncertainty without always having clear direction.
  • Navigating through complexity, chaos, and confusion.
  • Maintaining effectiveness despite constant surprises and ambiguity.

DDI’s research found that organisations whose leaders have a high VUCA capability were 3.5 times more likely to have strong leadership, ready to meet future challenges, than organisations with low VUCA capability. The top 20% of organisations performing well financially are three times more likely to have VUCA-capable leaders than the bottom 20%. The question is: how do you make sure that you have a strong leadership team that is ready to meet future challenges in a VUCA world?

Managing change is not as difficult as you might think, if you use your “Full Brain”

Change and risk-taking has fascinated me ever since I started coaching over 17 years ago. My curiosity has continually been sparked by people’s different perceptions and responses to change, risk, opportunity and their willingness to “go to the edge” of what they believe possible. The “Full Brain”™ model can be used to support effective change management and decision-making. As I mentioned in The 5 Biggest Challenges (and Opportunities) Facing Retail, the approach is about actively engaging all 3 brains:

  • Thinking Brain: Logical, intellectual and rational
  • Heart Brain: Emotional intelligence, feelings and empathy
  • Infinite Brain: Intuition, vision and super-consciousness.

Integrating logical, emotional and intuitive decision-making processes can improve your success rate in managing change.

Gain greater clarity and focus using the thinking brain

The prime functions of the thinking brain are cognition, perception, reasoning and making meaning. Honing your thinking brain enables you to stay focused on long-term objectives whilst:

  • Juggling priorities
  • Handling complex decisions
  • Taking measured risks.

With approximately ten billion neurons communicating in the thinking brain, any change or risk evaluation will be subject to complex internal decision-making using images, sounds, and kinaesthetic triggers. The right pre-frontal cortex is shown to think from a more global perspective, holistically processing non-verbal and spatial tasks, understanding metaphor, tones and music. The left pre-frontal thinking activity tends to relate to analytical processing, problem solving, verbal tasks and decisions using detailed processes. When fully aligned, the right and left sides of the brain help provide clarity and focus to intellectually evaluate change and risk. Being on the receiving end of a coaching style of conversation, where someone is asking you focused laser questions, actively listening and reflecting back using a robust coaching model such as GROW or CIGAR™ provides a valuable logical process that your thinking brain can latch on to. Cultivating a greater degree of mindfulness and a ‘Quiet Mind’ helps to clear the clutter from your mind and create the space to be fully present. This hones and develops your thinking brain so that you can gain greater clarity and understanding when evaluating change.

Engage the heart brain for confidence

The electronic signal of the heart has an amplitude sixty times higher than the signal of the thinking brain. This means that you can intellectually evaluate a decision with your thinking brain, but unless you are emotionally invested in the decision with your heart brain, you will be reticent to take action. Developing your ‘heart brain’ creates breakthroughs in emotional feelings about change and your ability to emotionally connect with your goals and decisions. The prime functions of the heart brain are emotional processing and relational effect. Connecting to your true feelings with authenticity and empathy enables you to tune into your deeper values, passions and motivations about key decisions. Creating an emotional ‘heart-brain’ bond towards a proposed change results in stronger and clearer feelings, either positive or negative, towards the change. These strong and clear feelings provide greater confidence to take action or not. The heart emits an energy field 5,000 times stronger than the head. Research has shown that this field can be measured 3 metres away from the body. This energy field explains why other people can pick up emotions you are feeling because your own body communicates beyond itself and impacts others. This can be used to positive effect if you’re feeling confident about a change and want to take people with you and fully engage them. However, beware, if your heart is in doubt about a particular course of action, this emotion will also leak out to others. When leading in a VUCA environment, paying attention to your heart is critical. Understanding your own values and addressing your fears will strengthen your heart brain. The trick here is to become more aware of your feelings moment by moment. Tuning into the beat of your heart and how your chest feels provides invaluable insights into the positive or negative feelings around change. Does your heart feel tight and heavy or light and expanded? Breathing deeply into your heart space can be very helpful. As one of my early coaches told me “Fear is excitement without the oxygen”. So if you’re feeling fearful about a change, breathe d e e p l y…

Tune into the infinite brain for power hunches and willingness to act

Activating your infinite brain will help to mobilise you into action, fuelled by a strong sense of purpose and a powerful reason why. A well-developed infinite brain combines the courage to change the status quo with the dynamic will to act. This comes from a deep sense within the gut, but also from beyond the body itself, from the energy in everything. Infinite brainpower is deeply connected and knowing. I actively encourage you to develop your intuition and trust your ability to acquire knowledge without interference or the use of reason. Trusting your gut can create significant breakthroughs in managing change and decision-making. Infinite brain intuition communicates through metaphor, symbolism and body sensations. When it leaks out into the body we get a sense of it in areas of tightness, tingling or other sensations in our stomach, chest and other body parts. When you are contemplating a change, be aware of any sensations you feel in your body. For example, if you feel a tingling in your stomach, have a dialogue with the tingling to find out what it is trying to tell you. Slowing down for a couple of hours every week or meditating for 20 minutes every day and taking the time to recall dreams are all valuable ways of boosting the power of your infinite brain. Healthy eating, sleep, drinking water and taking regular exercise all positively stimulate the gut and infinite brain too. Tuning into your infinite brain will not only strengthen your resilience, but will also enhance your ability to deal with change and embrace a positive new future.  


  1. Global Leadership Forecast 2014/15 – Development Dimensions International

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