What causes leaders to change : Choice, Chance or Crisis ? ( Question posted by me on Linkedin )

As the story goes, some people make things happen, some have things happen to them and others just say ‘What happened?’.

But when things happen, changes follow. If you think about it, there are probably three main drivers behind most of the changes we face in business, and in much of life: Choice, Chance and Crisis.
How do you approach change? Are you waiting for a crisis before you make inevitable changes? Are you actively looking for opportunities? Are you exploring all your options, and planning and preparing to change by choice?

Answers :

Luis K. Ayala
Application Development Group Supervisor at IE DIscovery

Good question Shalini,

I believe that people’s modus operandi dictates how they’ll react in the scenario you describe. Referring to Dr. Covey’s time management habit and the “important vs. urgent” quadrants, if you are used to (because you like it or can’t help it) to operating in the “urgent and important” quadrant, you’ll tend to wait until a crisis shows up before you do something about it. If, on the other hand, you are used to addressing “important but not urgent” items, you’ll look for opportunities.

Personally prefer the latter but I know several people who are very successful (and dare I say happy?) doing the former. Perhaps this is not an issue as to what approach is universally better for all, but rather a matter of personal preference and adaptability?

Thanks for the food for thought!


Sanjeev Himachali
HR Professional, Researcher, Motivator, Thinker, Career Coach and Human Relations Counsellor

I as person believe in having a goal and dreams. Being Passionate about it. Chase it. Never Give-up. So, if you see, I always plan for change. I believe in “Life by Choice” rather than “Life by Chance”.
Marut Bhardwaj
President Women 24 Secure, Strategy & Startup specialist, Toplinked.com

Change is a way of life. Leaders typically stay in “learning Mode”, thus its inherent to change and tweak course constantly to stay on the path of “Optimum”.

Chance…or circumstances are basically situations outside the are of influence, thus CHANGE is the only way rationalize and balance in teh event of unforseen or uncontrollables happening.

Crisis is a challenge. Leaders would have all engines charged and 100% execution mode in the time of crisis.

I love crisis. It brings out the best in me. But I dont wait for anything. I live by the moment. I plan but not for a minute do I expect that plan to be my bible. I change and tweak it all the time, until we hit the goal successfully!

Woohoo…I sound pretentious there. But thats honest 🙂

Happy New Year 2008 everyone!!

Warm Regards

Marut Bhardwaj
President Women 24 Secure

Akash Chander
Country Service Manager at LogicaCMG, Coach and Trainer

Good question.

I am inclined to believe that it is invariably a choice. There is always a space between stimulus and response and that space is the space for making a choice. Every external stimulus could lead to an automated, hard wired response buts it’s this space between the two where leaders find there power. The power of choice.

From that perspective, a crisis or a change could only be strong stimuli that could result in an equally strong hard wired response. It may trigger a change but for the choice a person makes consciously. Ultimately, it is about the choices we make.


Prasad Prabhakar
Project Manager – LogicaCMG

It’s got to be a planned / proactive change – I strongly believe in this. Planning, identifying risk, looking for opportunities.. basically a proactive approach helps in getting there. Though I would prefer this, I do not deny at point in times crisis also forces changes – but not always. Proactive change helps in quick adaptability during crisis as well.

Jorge Pinto
Chief Security Officer

Hi Shalini,

This is a very interesting question.

It is my experience that business changes driven by Choice (when properly thought of and planned) bring more benefits and lead to a better structured organization through the process known as Change Management, while it’s rare that businesses survive enough to have the opportunity to drive changes by Crisis (eg.:Gartner Inc. research found that 93% of organizations that have experienced a significant data loss are out of business within five years).

Changes driven by Chance are the province of businesses that “think with their feet” and are flexible enough to be able to adapt quickly and make _Choices_ to grasp the opportunities (I would put Google and Nokia in this category).

So…given the 3 Cs choice, I as an information security professional strive to achive change by Choice, rather than by Chance or Crisis.
My focus is to help identify the risks and opportunities and help to make decisions to keep the business running.

In that way I try to have the company to make the _Choice_ to be prepared to minimize _Chance_ and to be able to react in _Crisis_.

just my 2 cents


Martin Czebotar
Six Sigma black belt / Quality Manager / Auditor / Polymer Chemist
The gun to head test is a real motivator. That’s how Mussolini got the trains to run on time in Italy.

We should use this test on the over priced CEO’s the cut the pensions and benefits on the retirees.
Ray Miller
Energy expert, educator, award winning sculptor

Really great question!
I think any great leader operates on these three planes all the time, depending on the particular domain. It is like the old Ed Sullivan Show act where the guys was spinning plates on tall sticks. He had to keep moving to keep the plates spinning without hitting the floor. As he moved around he was able to add energy and work on some that were still fairly stable while he just got to others right before they would have fallen off.

No leader can have their attention on every aspect of what’s going all the time. Periodically as something falls from their attention it might decay into a crisis demanding their attention. In some areas they choose to take pre-emptive actions while in others just in the course of daily events they have opportunities to take action.

It’s like that in everyone’s lives, only to a more personal level.
Narinder Mahajan
Co-Owner, Bricolage Design Services

I think if you are aware of what’s happening around you, life will naturally teach you. When i started my career, things changed because i was not aware till crisis. I became little more aware and then i consciously brought changes by choice.
Chances will always happen everybody’s life. You dont have control over them as they are god’s gifts.

Kathrine Parrish
Executive Leader of Service/Call Center Operations

I think if we are honest, most of us will acknowledge that we live unaware lives and it usually takes some sort of stimulus to create awareness. This “wake-up” call leads to levels of insight that we previously did not have.

I prefer to be proactive about approaching, creating and embracing change. I also acknowelege that while I have a great deal of influence about what happens around me through my choices, I do not have total control. As a leader, I do need to be able to make conscious choices about how I choose to respond to these situations. How I react as a leader will impact and influence those around me. If I am able to be effective and healthy in responding to change, it makes others around me more effective and healthy.

My choice regardless of how change comes about, choice, chance or crisis is to remain effective.

Frank (Francesco) S. Adamo
Certified Career Coach at FSAdamo Enterprises

I might have rephrased the question somewhat, i.e. “What causes people to become great leaders?” If you are already a leader, I believe choice and crisis will cause a leader to change. If a leader has a choice, then he/she should get suggestions and recommendations, listen to their comments and then decide which choice to take. I remember Pres. Carter’s commercial for his re-election where we could see him at the White House as he was “burning the candles” way into the night while Ronald Reagan, when he became president, went to bed fairly early. A leader with a choice, needs to rely on his team, make a decision, and then retire to bed understanding he/she made the best choice under the circumstances and after consulting with his team.

I really don’t see how “chance” would influence a true leader. Chance is like luck and luck has nothing to do with leadership. Chances will happen in business and a person who is focused, has goals, and willing to step out from his/her comfort zone will take a chance — but I don’t really consider this a leadership role.

Crisis will lead to great leadership and that’s why I would have rephrased your question. More recently, Mayor Giuliani and President Bush (some may differ, but I consider Bush as a leader) on 9/11 took charge in a crisis and lead us out of a major crisis in our country. People may question the decisions made after 9/11, but during the crisis, both men were surperb leaders, much as FDR was during WWII.

I’d be interested to see what would happen in a crisis (such as a fire, a terrorist attack, the ceiling collapses, etc.) while a speaker is giving a presentation on leadership. Would the speaker take charge and guide the audience through the crisis? That’ would be an interesting question to ask.

I’ll leave you with some food for thought — something I received a couple of days ago. A great leader doesn’t have to be a great and honorable person to be a leader.

It is time to elect a new world leader, and only your vote counts.
Here are the facts about the three candidates. Who would you vote for?

Candidate A.
Associates with crooked politicians, and consults with astrologist He’s had two mistresses. He also chain smokes and drinks 8 to 10 martinis a day.

Candidate B.
He was kicked out of office twice, sleeps until noon, used opium in college and drinks a quart of whiskey every evening.

Candidate C
He is a decorated war hero. He’s a vegetarian, doesn’t smoke, drinks an occasional beer and never cheated on his wife.

Which of these candidates would be your choice?

Candidate A-
is Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Candidate B-
is Winston Churchill.

Candidate C –
is Adolph Hitler.

Geert – Jan  Dirven

Head of Operations Programs at DHL Worldwide Network

Your question has a rhetorical ring to it… can it be answered? or are the three big C’s “always” the main driver… I read your piece and couldn’t really think of another reason -depending on how ‘broad’ you would define these 3.

The true question would then be how big is chance? as you indicate, when we choose we don’t evaluate ALL available options. When we’re in crisis we may not even recognize options we have…so chance comes into play a lot….

Then it change needs a game-plan where the ‘unknown’ is the largest variable. Manage change on all that is predictable and leverage the best resources you have to manage the unexpected. The more options you can keep open, the more choice you have the better you manage chance…

Here’s a nice story and I think a great example -I think- of my niece, she must now decide on what ‘level’ she will finish her high-school education. For her direct college education she doesn’t need too much, but she would close down the option of going to ‘big-name’ universities… I’d rather she spend another year (or 2) in high-school to making sure she’s at the top of her qualifications and keep choices open… if you’re interested I’ll let you know what she decided….

Robin Brandt, Ph.D.
Senior Learning Specialist at Ninth House

How about a forth C? CULTURE.

—-CHOICE is the only driver under one’s direct control.

— CHANCE is the intersection of preparation and timing.

—-CRISIS is defined in chinese as ‘danger’ and ‘opportunity’

CULTURE is foundational to all 3.

I have found that defining change within the context of culture a meaningful starting point for realistic self-analysis and growth. I would also refer you to John Kotter who contexts change at an organizational level and William Bridges who contexts change in stages of personal transition.
Sajith Kumar
Training Manager at ABB

Hi Shalini,

Thought provoking question.

To start with, let me quote Jack Welch:”Change before it comes.People and organizations either change or they become victims of change.”

Good leaders make a choice to change by proper planning and back up.

Chance: I agree with Narinder Mohan. It may come to every one, some may make good use of it. Some may mess it up and there are a few who will not be affected at all !!!

Crisis: I would go with Marut and Frank. It can happen to any one at any time. It is a challenge. It will bring out the best in great leaders.

So, great leaders plan and prepare for Change but at the same time they should be able to handle sudden “crisis”. Then only they can be called exceptional. I will end by quoting Martin Luther King, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy !!!”
Octavio Ballesta
Management Consultant ♣ Technology Development

Hi Shalini,

The causes that justify in a leader a change by Choice, Chance or Crisis are related with a particular leadership style that being applied to a specific business case can be perfectly the mirror of a leadership that can be Bureaucratic or Autocratic when he/she leads the change’s process motivated by choice; Charismatic or Transformational when he/she leads the change’s process motivated by Chance or Task-Oriented/Transactional when he/she leads the change’s process motivated by Crisis.

The underlying leadership style and the willingness to pursue corporate transformational projects have close relation with the permissiveness or potential of inhibition that corporate culture poses on executives to influence how they display their own risk taking attitude and how they develop a preferential approach for justifying corporate changes by Choice, Chance or Crisis.

A company that is driven for innovation and is aggressive in the development of its marketing strategy will encourage by design and cultural conviction a style of taking change decisions dominantly based in the creating of chances or opportunities to open new markets, get new business deals or create business conditions to become a market leader.

A company that is driven by industrial standards, KPI, benchmarks and best practices to ensure operational excellence and predictable financial and operational outcomes to satisfy to their stakeholders, will surely pursue an attitude inclined to choose the best option available to pursue a corporate change after exhaustive and systematic analysis has been developed.

When a company faces risk of bankruptcy, have shown poor financial performance or are experimenting a continuous decline in its competitive position is mandatory as a last resource to ensure company’s viability for the years to come the pursuing almost exclusive of a Crisis Management’s method.

From a coach’s perspective each one of the motivating factors (Choice, Chance and Crisis) that propels business change is indeed an excellent field of career development and professional specialization.

From a leadership perspective I would prefer to be proactive, anticipative and creative by developing a business strategy which encourages a liberal culture and a propitious climate that promotes free interchange of ideas and outstanding innovation.

I hope this helps you.

Natraj T
Vice President – Corporate Marketing at Polaris Software Lab Ltd.

Interesting Question.

I am reminded of the vivid Tsunami and 9/11 scenes. Despite the best laid out security blanket by arguably the most brilliant leaders (democracy, free spirit, Military and otherwise) in the world, they were made to eat humble pie as enemies struck from within the fence. In the Tsunami’s case, we simply did not have a plan, that doesn’t mean India did not have leaders (the way Indian leadership too charge during and after that crisis is a tale of legends)

Lets be practical there is no such thing as a well laid out plan as most ‘leaders’ will always do and have done and will continue to do. It is the way they operate when the going gets tough. It is the CRISIS dimension in my experience and considered opinon that defines, creates, baptises, eulogises Leadership. Crisis simply creates Leaders. Leaders have to be neccessarily baptised by Crisis to be gain currency for ‘leadership’. I am not for a minute alluding everyone to embrace crisis proactively. Trust me Crisis equips us with tremendous knowledge about self and understanding self, is the most important lever to handle personal and professional life. Having said that you have a CHOICE you would want to either steer clear of crisis or face the crisis head-on (some times you dont have a CHOICE, crisis simply steals in on you and squares you up…. Tsunami/9/11). Crisis gives that opportunity, the CHANCE for Leaders to be at the very frontier of Leadership…

Have a Merry Christmas and Great New Year, Folks
Terrence Seamon
Facilitating Change – Achieving Results

Choice, Chance or Crisis: I like that, Shalini. You should write an article.
I think a lot of us change because of chance or crisis. “Things happen,” as you said, that shake our trees and we go tumbling. This kind of change obviously is reactive.

Proactive change based on exploration, choice, and planning is better though many of us don’t make the time for it in our busy lives.


Ozie Cargile II
Knowing is only half…

It is always choice.

Chance is the side effect of some good choices, just as crisis is the side effect of some bad ones… but both boil down to choice. The greater path then is to perfect the way of good choice-making. And then it won’t matter whether the situation is of chance or crisis. And what is the secret to good choice-making? An open mind.



Author: Shalini Verma

Hi ! I am Shalini Verma and I help people to Achieve continuous inspiration and success , aid them to FREE energy from patterns and programmes that no longer serve them , partner with them to CREATE energy by putting into place regular work and life practices that are inspiring and sustaining and to MOBILIZE energy by taking intentional action into new oppurtunities and adventures . If you are ready to make inspiration and success your daily reality......then we are ready to go !

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