Leading in a VUCA world

“One of the greatest problems we face today is how to adjust our way of thinking to meet the challenge of an increasingly complex, rapidly changing, unpredictable world. We must rethink our way of organising knowledge” – Edgar Morin

In the fast changing, complex world of today, business is not as usual! Our world today has been described as volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. In fact, these words form the acronym VUCA, and behind it is a body of knowledge dealing with learning models for VUCA preparedness, anticipation, evolution and intervention.

Despite initially being developed by the military, the term has since the 1990s been getting increasingly popular and is now widely used in strategic leadership, applying to a wide range of organisations. But if business is not like usual, what is business like? What do you need to be a leader in a VUCA world?

1. Possibilities, not probabilities. In a VUCA world, anything can happen! Rather than focusing on what is likely to happen, as determined by what happened before, we must focus on what is possible. This may be easier said than done, as research shows this is not the pattern that pleases our brains. Our brains like deduction and prediction. The key is to form new habits and subsequently new ways of thinking.

2. Learning agility. In order to be prepared for your next role in the organisation, especially a leadership role, you must apply learning agility in your approach to challenges. Learning agility is neatly summed up by some as “Knowing what to do, when you do not know what to do”

 3. Creating an island of certainty in the midst of VUCA chaos. A worried and anxious team is not a high performing team. Make sure you reassure your team through stability and transparency, and communicate your tolerance for learning-based mistakes that are inevitable in a VUCA world.

 4. Understanding of your organisation. Today’s leader needs in-depth understanding of their organisation in order to take advantage of fast changing circumstances by playing to their strengths and minimising their weaknesses. As a leader you can stay attuned by engaging with all levels of employees and customers, to ensure you have an array of perspectives.

 5. Courage. It takes guts to lead in a world where anything can happen! You need the ability to respond effectively to a given situation, even in the absence of resources, to assess the implications of the response.

Being a leader in a VUCA world differs drastically from our traditional view on leadership, but it is most definitely something you can learn. With our five tips in mind, you are well on your way towards becoming a leader adapted to the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world of today.

What else do you think is important for successful leadership in a VUCA world? Please, contribute to the conversation below.

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