Embracing The Chaos Of Change With Barbara Zuleger

by | Aug 19, 2021 | Podcasts

SWGR 577 Barbara Zuleger | Embracing Change


Change and the chaos that ensues are part and parcel of our lives. Embracing change can mean the difference between success and failure. In this episode, Elizabeth Bachman engages business growth consultant and entrepreneur Barbara Zuleger in a discussion about chaos. Barbara discusses embracing the chaos and how to use the chaos to improve yourself and your business. Listen and learn how to embrace change in this episode.

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Embracing The Chaos Of Change With Barbara Zuleger

Before I dive into the conversation with Barbara, I’d like to invite you to see where your presentation skills are strong and where you might need a little bit of support at SpeakForResultsQuiz.com. In four minutes, it’s free and you can see where you’re presentation skills are strong and where perhaps a little support could get you better results and the recognition that you deserve.

My guest is Barbara Zuleger where we had a really interesting conversation about embracing the chaos of change. How perhaps not to live in the chaos, how to deal with it if it suddenly dumped on you, really moving forward and recognizing that change and chaos are linked and that it’s like a dance. You’ve got to step forward, a step back, a step sideways and maybe sometimes you get twirled by your partner or sometimes you’re the person doing the twirling, etc.

Barbara Zuleger is the Founder of Performance Partners Coaching. She’s a serial entrepreneur where she has started businesses. She’s been a franchisee, she’s purchased existing businesses with success and some well not so successful results. She knows what it’s like to run a business, the good and the bad. She’s used her experiences and training to create a system that business owners use to improve their quality of life through business growth done right. We had a delightful conversation. Let’s go to Barbara Zuleger.

Barbara Zuleger, thank you so much for joining us on the show.

Thank you, Elizabeth. I’m excited to be here with you.

I’m thrilled. We’re part of a networking group where I suddenly had several people cancel interview requests and I said, “Help,” and Barbara went, “I’ve been following you but I hadn’t really adapted.” When you said you could talk about embracing the chaos of change, I went, “Absolutely.” Before we get into the actual business part of the interview, I’d like to ask you about your dream interview. If you could interview someone who’s not necessarily with us at the moment, who would it be? What would you ask them and who should be in the audience?

No one is coming to mind immediately that I think about who’s no longer with us but I do think about somebody who has a lot of us see regularly on network TV. I honestly don’t follow that particular show but Barbara Corcoran, who has a long history of real estate and business out of New York. Now, she’s probably a multimillionaire but what I love about her story and know more about is how she went from the waitress who was starting a business on a borrowed $1,000 to where she is now and how she managed to keep herself going would be the biggest questions. In the audience should be everybody who’s run a business or all women in business, we all experienced that where I don’t know if I can go one more day.

Being a leader is like dancing: it's a step forward, it's a step back, it's a step sideways. Sometimes, we get that unexpected spin from a partner. Share on X

Am I still going to be here tomorrow as far as my business goes? How do I move on from this piece of chaos? We go back to the chaos piece because that’s been thrown at me. She did it multiple times. Most people who are successful, in fact, I would bet everybody who’s been successful has experienced that. I’d love to dig into where she found that next strength but sometimes it doesn’t feel like strength when we’re doing it. How do you find that next piece to move forward when you feel like everything around you is falling apart?

How do you find that next piece of strength? Some of it is if you have people depending on you. Sometimes, it’s the responsibility of the people that you have hired who are expecting you to pay them because it’s a challenge, which leads us directly into the chaos of change. I love that title. We all talk about change and chaos. Can you talk a little bit about the connection between change and chaos?

They’re definitely permanently linked. In our businesses and our careers as well in life in general, change is not expected. It’s essential. In order for growth, we’re going to see change. All change has a whole other topic but all change has a positive and a negative side to it. It’s like electricity. There’s a positive and a negative piece of it in all change but the one thing that change has in common is it always creates chaos. It’s because of that alternating. We’re always letting go of something to move into something new.

Even if we’re moving into is exactly what we want, it still creates chaos. Look at how things change happens, change starts with a decision, and it’s a decision based on what we can see in the future where we want to go but it’s the transition time in between the decision and the results where all the chaos happens. We all want change. Few people want to go through that transition period. When you are leading others through that transition period or that transition periods have been created for you because of somebody who is leading you, it’s a whole different set of chaos to go through.

How do we deal with it? How do we cope with it? How do we do with it without getting ulcers or massive amounts of alcohol?

A glass of wine here or there is certainly not going to hurt most people. That could be a helpful piece as well because what it comes down to is we need to learn how to embrace the chaos. It’s going to be there. I think a lot of us try to avoid chaos, that’s going to make it difficult. If we’ve got to deal with this, that means we probably shouldn’t do this because that’s too difficult but where we want to get to on the other side of that chaos is important to us. We need to understand that it’s a part of the process. If we look at the whole experience of chaos, we think about the face of a clock. At 12:00 on that clock, that’s your status call.

This is how things have always gone. Maybe that status quo has been going on for years or it’s been going on for weeks but this is status quo for you. At the 3:00 point, this is where we’ve gathered new information. We’ve learned something new. Maybe that is a new opportunity, a potential challenge in front of us that we need to be prepared for or a staff change. There are so many things that come into our lives, our careers and our businesses that are new information. We’ve shifted through that new information and decide where those changes need to happen. The next step at that 6:00 circle is implementation. So far, we’re doing great. We’ve made all these tough decisions. We’ve decided what we’re going to implement.

We probably have some type of plan as to how we’re going to implement that because we’re moving away from that current status quo. At 9:00 on that clock face is always going to be chaos. The bigger the change, the bigger the chaos. One of the things about embracing chaos is knowing it’s there and you’re going to get there. There’s a lot of things we can talk about about how to prepare for that and how to prepare your team for that but it’s really about learning the tools of how to get through the chaos as quickly as possible, as little damage as possible and knowing that’s bringing us back to status quo and we all know a clock is circular and it’s going to keep going on like that.

SWGR 577 Barbara Zuleger | Embracing Change

Embracing Change: Being a leader is like dancing: it’s a step forward, it’s a step back, it’s a step sideways. Sometimes, we get that unexpected spin from a partner.


It’s probably a spiral. Hopefully, you’re spiraling up rather than spiraling down. I’m sure we’ve all been in places where you are spiraling down because of the change. You have to make cuts because you’re not making enough money. Imagine you were in the luxury hotel business in 2020, for instance, or in the high-level tour business.

I do a couple of clients in smaller town’s delis and bakeries or high-end dessert shops who buys all their product or the higher-end hotels, or we only seat 30 people, we can’t be open half size and make it work. That definitely is a chaos that they have to get through.

I came from theater and opera and all my colleagues couldn’t perform in 2020. They couldn’t get out in front of an audience. There’s a big change in chaos.  

When you hit that point of chaos, there are a couple of different things. There are three usual instincts that we have. Number one is we get to chaos and we say, “This sucks. I don’t like this. It’s uncomfortable. It’s hard.” I think we’re going right back to where we were. “I’m stuck. I don’t like this feeling. I don’t like this chaos. Let’s go back to the previous status quo.” The one that we know.

The challenge is often we don’t have that option depending on the structure of the environment we’re working in. Even if we do have that option, it doesn’t eliminate our new information. We made the decision to go through this or we accepted the challenge however that chaos or change came to be and avoiding the chaos. It doesn’t make us a whole lot more comfortable because we still realize it needs to happen. We need to get to where we wanted to go.

The first thing is wanting to go back. I understand that one. I know that one very well. I go back to where it was where I knew what I was doing.

The growth doesn’t happen there and sometimes, you talked about all the things people have dealt with in the last couple of years where the chaos has not been a growth towards the direction of growth. It’s been going backward for some people. You have to go backwards sometimes to move forward. I was speaking with someone and I see them being in business or being a leader. It’s like dancing. it’s a step forward, a step back, a step sideways and sometimes we get that unexpected spin from a partner.

That’s what the chaos is like and our goal is to stay on our feet or get back on her feet as soon as we can so that we can keep moving through it because if you stay stuck in chaos, you never get to that next level of status quo. That’s the second piece that some people run into when they hit that chaos point is, “This was really difficult. Getting to this point was not fun. It hurts. I’m uncomfortable with it. I don’t think I want to go any further. I know I can’t go backward. We’re going to stay right here,” and we get comfortable being in chaos. It becomes a way of life, a patterned business. It becomes a pattern of behavior instead of a change.

The one thing that all change has in common is it always creates chaos. Share on X

There are a lot of people that live in that chaos. Not to interrupt your thought but I have certainly spent time in places where everybody waits until the last minute especially when I worked in the Latin countries. At the last minute, everybody works really hard and they pull it off. This makes me think of the times when I’ve worked in the Latin countries especially in my opera days, where people would wait until the day before the show open to finally get everything done and it would scramble. You would do the show and you had this huge adrenaline rush for having pulled it off. I tried to get the company to plan and said, “There’s a different satisfaction. Have it work out the way you planned it?” They fired me. They said, “Thank you but we’re not going to do what the North Americano wants. We like this.” I get that one.

That story is another reminder, too. It’s a different topic. It’s important that in our businesses and corporations we’re working in, we understand and we all embrace a similar culture within the business. That doesn’t impact our cultures personally outside of the business but when we know what to expect and what’s expected within the culture of the business, we have a better understanding and it’s more consistent as to how we get through that chaos. We still have different personalities in that and that’s good but there is that, “I’m going to get stuck here. I’m going to stay here. I’m used to this. This is how we do things here.”

What about the people who create drama as somehow, they have that feeling that the drama is you need to live in a state of drama?

It does become a pattern of behavior. Some of us have the pattern of behavior of being very calm and not worrying about things. They have to be done. We know how to move and get things done. Other people like to plan weeks and months ahead of time. It’s a pattern of behavior that people fall into. We need to understand that about the people we’re working with and be able to either coach them out of that if it’s necessary for the team or find a way to embrace that to help push through the chaos because we all have different ways of doing it if we understand who we’re working with. There are times when that’s not possible. Maybe the chaos is we’re merging these two departments. How do we handle that?

There’s no way around the chaos for that. It’s having those structures of getting through the chaos and the simplest way I can think of for that structure on how to get through some of that chaos is three simple steps. Have a plan, be flexible with that plan, and then I go back to your childhood monkey bars. There’s a lot holding on to each of those bars whether you’re the 40 pounds second grader or you’re a 200 pounds dad who’s going to prove you could still do it. You’re going across the monkey bars and in order to get to the next rank, you’ve got to let go of one.

We talked about there being three steps that people tend to hit when they hit through the chaos. 1) Going back to the status quo. 2) Getting stuck in the chaos. The third one is how do I get through this chaos as quickly as possible? In order to do that requires those three pieces you need to plan. How clearly can we define where we want to be? What’s that new status quo? What’s the purpose of this chaos that we’re going through? Why did we create this change? With everything that’s happened since 2020, there’s a lot of change that has to happen. There are also a lot of opportunities in some businesses for people. They should be looking at what’s that pivot, what’s that opportunity that I could move into and have a plan around what that looks like. The clearer you can see it, the better you can make decisions to get you through the chaos faster.

I’m thinking that this is where embracing the chaos comes in in terms of letting go.

It’s not going to be pretty, it’s going to be messy. Sometimes, people are going to embrace that because they like the adrenaline rush. Some people are not going to like that feeling at all because they don’t feel like they have control over what they’re doing. When that’s what you’re feeling, we want to be really focused on what’s the why. What’s on the other side of the chaos? What’s that new status quo we’re trying to get to because we can make the right decisions that get us through that chaos.

SWGR 577 Barbara Zuleger | Embracing Change

Embracing Change: When we look at how change happens, change starts with a decision. And it’s a decision based on what we can see in the future where we want to go.


When we can look at the process of change, there are two pieces I like to coach on when I talk about the process of change. That was that first piece, which was you have to make the decision based on where you want to go, understand that the step between that is the longest step and that’s transition. You’re then going to go through this cycle of chaos. The more frequently you go through it and you go through it consciously like, “This is that chaos piece. What is the next step that I need to take in order to keep moving it forward?” You’ll learn how to get through chaos faster.

That makes a lot of sense. I keep thinking about it as someone where chaos is imposed upon you. Say that you suddenly discover that the competition launches a product that is exactly like the one that you’re in development for but you’re three months out and they’ve launched it to major fanfare. Suddenly, you’re not the first to market and you have to rethink. If you say you wake up to that news, where can one start to deal with that sort of chaos?

The first thing I would do is go back to, what was the reason that we were doing this product? Go back to that vision that you had for why you’re creating this product. Somebody else has beat you to launch but does that diminish the purpose and the intent of you creating this for your department or your business. It still has value. In most cases, the answer is going to be yes. It’s just that now we’re following instead of leading. You find a way to turn and take a look at that. How do I adjust what that outcome looks like? Do I need to go faster? Do I need to communicate differently? What problem does this really give you? How do we drill down to is this a problem or is it based strictly on, “I’m disappointed and I’m feeling like we fell behind.”

Let’s talk about feeling.

That’s a big part of the chaos. One thing that I get to do with my business owners is I’m looking from the outside. I can see the logical steps of where they need to go to get through their chaos most of the time. They’re stuck in the middle of it. It’s really easy to get totally encompassed by the feeling side of that chaos. If you’re a leader and you’re trying to lead your team through that, understanding that your team may be experiencing all those feelings that come with that and it’s our job to try and communicate with them in a less emotional way. Does that make sense? It doesn’t mean we don’t experience the feelings too but helping them to understand how do I go from step 1 to step 3 when step 2 feels really hard. Let’s break step 2 down into 8 steps of its own. How do we get through that?

That leads me to one of the thoughts about the chaos that changes. If you’re the person who is making the change, you’ve been thinking about it for a while. You had to think about what you are going to do and where you are going to take the company but it’s still a surprise to your people. Taking your team through it or maybe there’s a deal pending and you can’t talk about it until it’s happened, “We’ve sold the company to so-and-so and half the departments are going to be eliminating. The leaders usually have thought about it.” Are there ways of alerting people that there’s a possible change coming? How to give people a chance to prepare, even though you can’t tell them all the details yet?

It’s going to be dependent on the size of the organization partly. When you get into the larger organizations and you start putting out little bits of information, we know what happens there. Rumor mills go crazy because everybody interprets it in a different way. It does depend on the size of the organization. That’s exactly how I would recommend somebody do this but a lot of it does come back to that culture piece. Do you have a culture of growth within your business?

Do you have a culture where we’re embracing change because that’s what it takes for a successful business? If I look back in the ‘80s when you’re working in Corporate America, you expected things to stay pretty static. “ This is exactly where my ladder is going to be. This is exactly what I’m going to need to do to get there. This is what everybody around me is going to be doing. I know what to expect.” That does not work in nowaday’s environment in very many companies. In fact, it really probably doesn’t work in any although there are certainly plenty of that are still in a similar environment to that.

Not all changes turn out to be what we want them to be. That's just the reality of it. Share on X

If you’re a leader in your department, in your business, in wherever you’re at, if you can start to promote the idea that, “What we have is great and we’re always looking for how do we react,” because change around us is so much faster than it was even many years ago. We always have to be ready to move and adjust without changing for the sake of changing. If your culture in your business is say my employee comes into me and says, “I have a great idea. I overheard this in a coffee shop and I’m concerned or I think everybody should be aware of this potential fly in the ointment coming at us.”

If we’ve opened that communication where our team can bring those ideas to us and we’re going to say, “Let me think about that. It doesn’t mean we change everything based on but that we’re open to the idea that there’s other information coming in. It’s going to be easier for our team to accept that when we have to bring it to them.” I think in most cases it is good to let people know that there are some things that we are looking at that may change our plan for the fourth quarter. “It may change our plan for next year. I can’t share the details of that with you yet but I will as soon as I can.”

It makes me think about two things. One is most people are okay with change. It’s the surprise that’s the hard part. It’s when you are suddenly dumped into a change with no preparation or if you’re trying to speak to someone who’s managing you and they don’t like surprises either. I’m always saying to my people, “Give me an answer. I don’t care if the answer is no or if the answer is I can’t deal with that until next week, fine. I’ll figure out a workaround.” It’s when I send out a question and nobody answers, I don’t get an answer at all that I go crazy.

It’s one thing to deal with a change that you’ve done the research. You said, “This is where we are. This is where we need to be. It’s that chaos that surprises all happening in the transition, in the middle and I’m ready for that.” You bring it to your team and they’re saying, “We’re not ready for that. We don’t necessarily agree with your vision and where you want to go.” How do you deal with that when you are the team that’s thinking that? How do you deal with it when you’re the leader of that team?

You have to keep the communication open. I think if we can go through and talk about here’s the cycle of change. This is what change happens. Not all changes turn out to be what we want them to be. That’s the reality of it. We try things. Sometimes, it works. Sometimes, it works by teaching us something. It’s teaching us to not make that choice again. It’s having that open communication and being real. This may not be an easy transition for us but this is why we’ve chosen to do it and this is what I need from you to make it a reality. If you’ve built that strong team and the communication on your team, they’ll walk through that with you.

It also makes me think about scenario planning. When the lockdown started in March of 2020, I listened to an interview of one of my favorite people, Charlene Lee, who is talking about scenario planning and how do you look forward 3, 6, 9 months. If this happens, we do that. If the other thing happens then we’ll do something else but that’s also something that you get your teams involved and do some scenarios for us. We may or may not use them but I’d like to know what would happen. What kind of recovery is it? I’ve certainly known that in April of 2020, I was planning for the pandemic to be over by June 1st, 2020. I really didn’t believe it was going to take that long. I was all set to move ahead.

There was a whole spectrum of how people reacted to that. My husband’s business was very strongly impacted by the shutdown. In fact, his business basically shut down when all that happened. It was done. When he heard of the shutdown especially with the time of year for him, he knew that month he was done for at least six months because he’s a cyclical business. He gave up his retail space, let his employees go and moved everything home within two days.

Looking back, now that we’re seeing all the stimulus money that was available and all those things, he maybe didn’t have to do that but he was preparing for the fact that literally overnight, he was not going to have any income coming in for at least six months. He needed to react to that right now. Sometimes we have to do it that way. Sometimes, we’re looking at and we’re saying, “Let’s look at it one week at a time.” He was planning with all of that, he did a lot of strategic planning with people. We want to look at 3 years out and 5 years off.

SWGR 577 Barbara Zuleger | Embracing Change

Embracing Change: Our goal is to stay or get back on our feet as soon as we can so that we can keep moving through it. If you stay stuck in chaos, you never get to that next level of status quo.


What’s the big picture? We need to keep that pretty general. What are our annual goals? What are our quarterly objectives? When we’re in a fast-changing world, which we seem to be impermanently now, we have to keep going back to that plan and looking at it weekly, monthly, not restating the three-year strategy necessarily. Not restating even the annual goals but looking at what do we need to do with this week, this month to stay on track?

What else is coming in that’s going to throw that off track? Is it a new opportunity that we really do need to act on this? Is it a potential challenge that we need to have on our radar so that we can be ready to do that? If you’re leading a team, you want that team to feel like they are responsible for that as well. It doesn’t mean you’re going to have everything they talk about. I was hearing about this and I’ve done a little research on it. Here’s an opportunity that I think could come out of that for us.

I don’t have all the details but this is what I’m considering. I’m talking about the culture of the business. It really impacts how we manage chaos in the business. Whatever you tolerate in culture is what becomes the culture. If we tolerate the idea of, “We do everything last minute because we like the adrenaline rush that comes with it,” but the leaders of the business are really thinking, “It’s not the best way for us to run this business. We have a conflict there and that’s going to because of unnecessary chaos.”

This is a huge conversation. I think we could go further for the next three hours. Let me pause here and say, is there one place to start if you’re faced with the chaos that you’re not happy with and you really feel adrift? What would be the first thing to do?

The first thing to do is give yourself a chance to try and bring down that immediate adrenaline response that we get because we’re going to make better decisions if we can find the logic within the emotion. I’m not ever saying we shouldn’t go with our gut because that does tell us a lot but we need to figure out how to do that and that takes some logic to do that. When we hit chaos, what can come out of this chaos? If it’s the chaos that’s moving us in what we think is backward, how do we get through that with the least amount of damage with the most opportunities left on the other side? We can get through the immediate chaos like shutting down a business because the government said we had to and scientists said that we had to. That’s reality. We have to do what we have to do. How do I prepare for the other side of that? If we can’t see the other side of that, sometimes we have to keep going.

What’s the next step? What’s one step we can take?

What’s one monkey bar I can let go of? That’s why I use the monkey bar analogy because you’re not going to do it in one step. You’re not going to go from chaos to the new status quo in a step. It’s going to be one small step at a time. Keep moving because if you stay stuck, the change is going to keep happening around you and you’re not going to have any way to leave it.

The culture of the business impacts how we manage chaos in the business. Whatever you tolerate in culture is what becomes the culture. Share on X

I keep having visions of learning how to dive when I was a kid. I was very slow to learn how to dive because I thought about it too much. I kept thinking about all the ways I was going to die when I hit that water. I finally learned how to dive and trust that I could come back up. I’m having visions of that.

That’s why there are experiences like that. For me, I am not a big fan of heights. It was high ropes courses. I like to be in control. Allowing ourselves outside of our work to go through experiences like diving, high ropes courses, whitewater rafting or something. Going through those experiences helps us understand that we can go through that emotion, that chaos and come out the other side. It’s a completely different environment but it still prepares us for chaos in our business.

People like you and I can help be the guides in the ropes course. Barbara, Thank you so much for being a guest on the show. I’m sure we’ll be talking a lot more. This has been Speakers Who Get Results. Let me remind you that if you’re curious how your presentation skills are helping you or not, you can take our free four-minute quiz at www.SpeakForResultsQuiz.com. That’s where you can see where your presentation skills are strong and supporting you and where perhaps a little support from outside could help you get the results and the recognition that you need. Thank you. I’ll see you at the next one.


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About Barbara Zuleger

Barbara Zuleger is an award-winning, experienced business coach, consultant, speaker and serial entrepreneur. She shares her expertise in business growth to get business leaders thinking differently and achieving more.

Barbara’s passion is to help entrepreneurial businesses kick ass and thrive because stronger businesses mean stronger families and stronger communities.