“If you can keep your head, when all about you are losing theirs and blame it on you” (R. Kipling) or “Leading even when we don’t know: How should we react to Corona-Hysteria?”


Didier Marlier

March 14, 2020

From Disruption to Engagement

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I love those words of Rudyard Kipling in his famous poem “If”. One of my very good friends and partners in crime, sent me this fascinating view that some government seems to hold as how to plan their response to Covid-19:

The actual situation reminds me of Dave Snowden’s Cynefin model helping to understand how our leadership attitude should change depending on the context:

  • A Simple context is relatively straightforward: We know what cause is responsible for which effect (C=E). This is predictable, linear and clear to all. The way of leading is to ensure objectives are clear, people understand how to reach them, install a warning system in case of deviation and let them work with it.
  • A Complicated context is more… complicated. It is the real of specialists and experts, consultants and engineers. Yes what causes the effect is clear (like switching on the light in my bedroom), the result is predictable but when something odd or unexpected happens, it takes a specialist to understand what went wrong and how to solve the issue. (C=>E when the arrow is usually hidden by a black box, only understandable to the “few initiated people” who master that complicated environment). Leaders will develop, praise, promote the specialists whose license to operate is their superior knowledge (leading when I know).
  • A Complex environment is the Disruption Economy. A Cause may produce several Effects, it is unpredictable and non linear (CE). Likewise an Effect may have several causes. It is about leading when I don’t know for sure. Snowden recommends observation to see patterns emerging, trial and error, flexibility and simplification. As often explained by Yves Morieux, do not throw “complicatedness” to defend yourself from Complexity!
  • Finally, a Chaotic environment is what we see with the Coronavirus, or the unexpected explosion of an unpronounceable Icelandic volcano etc. Understanding causes may not be the most relevant question when things unravel: Finding a right and adequate response is. How do we lead under such circumstances? Courageous leaders will take a stand, a position, will test if that solves the issue and will not be afraid of being unpopular.

 Of course, one could say some concealed the problem for too long, others did not prepare nor follow it adequately when it happened. But, as a citizen of the World, I am proud to see the responsibility of the people who do not waste their energy into useless debates and rather seek to support the difficult decisions taken by their leaders. On a moving note, all my respect to the Italian people who taught us all a lesson about how to react to adversity!

“Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh!” (G. Bernard Shaw): Last night, we celebrated the Life and Funerals of a long time friend with Joy, Emotion and Laughter just before closing our ski resort, following the orders of our Government! Enjoy your leadership journey!


  1. Terence Tham

    Hi Didier, happy to see you blogging more. I guess the Coronavirus can be positive in some ways. It’s always nice to hear your insights and tips to be a more effective leader. Thanks. Stay safe.

    • Didier Marlier

      Thank you dear Terence,
      Yes definitely a good side of being confined home with an inspiring scenary around… Hope you are well!!! Nice to read you!


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