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BBI of Chicago
May 2022

Sensemaking - Behavioral Leadership in Chaos

By: Aline Sobral Pavanello.

We currently live in a much more dynamic world, where traditional management and long-term planning are no longer the most appropriate due to constant changes that lead to uncertain circumstances. The loss of the standard of normality is what usually deviates into the chaos scenario.


Chaos is represented by the uncertainties and exponential complexity that many organizations experience, inserted in the competitive context, with unknown variables, which require innovation and rapid adaptations. This often unpredictable scenario has been transforming the way of leaders. It is making traditional and well-known processes dysfunctional and demanding behavioral changes for an execution model with enlightening dialogue that transforms those led into proactive, performative, and directing people, not making sense anymore to plan and lead mechanically.


The former chaos, which was just a moment or an exception, is today the reality that challenges leaders to reinvent themselves and requires organizations to change their behavior to remain stable. Therefore, the need arose for leaders capable of leading their teams in a scenario of chaos, using strategic communication, identifying insights, and structuring the unknown in an organized and simplified way. The greatest challenge is finding leadership that transforms complex scenarios into simple ones and with a greater understanding of their team, assertively leading them to the objective.

Thinking about behavioral and facilitating leadership, Karl Weick elaborates on the Sensemaking method, defined as a way to "make sense of something" or "structure the unknown." Following what Weick's theory proposes has been an inspiration for those who lead. Along with Sensemaking are valuable characteristics of a good leader, such as the abilities to interact, communicate, and relate well with others. It is a leadership that manages to organize ideas and complex problems, that seeks innovation and new ways of understanding needs, that can perceive a complex scenario and explore its understanding, achieving competitive advantage.

Karl Weick points out that sensemaking starts in chaos when it is necessary to interpret the unknown, and he recommends that the crucial resources for creating meaning are: Social, Identity, Retrospective, Tips, Continuous Progress, Plausibility, and Representation (from the acronym SIRCOPE, in English).

Therefore, sensemaking begins by identifying the loss of the standard of normality or an unknown situation, chaos. Soon, active communication begins between all those involved (social). Events are identified and categorized to understand what is happening (identity). In a presumptive conversation they begin to represent and present tangible results (representation/tips) in an attempt to connect the abstract to the concrete. In a retrospective process, aspects of the past that can be evoked for the construction of meaning (retrospective) are analyzed. The proposal of creating meaning is acceptable, after the revised explanation, enriched among all towards a minimum of consensual information (plausibility). The process of making sense must remain active. Stories must be modified when new inputs and opportunities, sharing everything among all to balance the environment and reduce ambiguity (continuous progress).

Therefore, Sensemaking is a process that allows leadership to organize chaos and navigate uncertainties, using communication as a strategic tool for social and institutional development, leading to a challenging but necessary mentality change for the new normal.



COUTINHO, Thiago. Sensemaking: seja um líder significador, Blog Voitti, 2020 Available in:<>. Visited on 07/16/2021.

NEVES, Ricardo Oliveira. SENSEMAKING: Liderança por Propósito - Comunicação Estratégica para um Mundo de Complexidade Exponencial. 1st Edition. São Paulo Editora Neo 2021.

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