Leadership and VUCA: How to Go Forward Without Fear

VUCAI probably don’t need to tell you that the world is changing at a mind numbing rate.  The world we used to know just a few years ago?  It’s gone.  Volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity have moved in.  Some experts have labeled it “VUCA”:  a set of circumstances that call for new ways of doing things; a state of being that is here to stay.  Just reading this paragraph may jangle your nerves.

Exactly how is the world so unsettled?  What are the issues that must be confronted and managed?  Financial crises, environmental toxicities, climate shifts, persistent poverty, chemical wars…these are some examples on a global scale.  But there are others close to home:  unemployment, limited resources, mass violence, obesity, disabilities, growing cultural diversity, longer life spans, a shrinking middle class.  Oh, and let’s not forget about massive dependence upon electronics.

As a leader, your greatest challenge and responsibility is to figure how to lead in this VUCA world.  The bottom line is that you must learn to function at a higher level than perhaps you are now.  You must learn to do things differently.  This is not a criticism—it’s a fact.  Not sure where to start?  These tips should help.

Change your beliefs about leadership.

Navigating a VUCA environment begins with a mindset shift about what leadership should look and sound like.  VUCA requires communicating a vision and then sharing the responsibility to achieve it.  Going forward, manage your ego to make room for others.

Accept that some issues cannot be solved.

You will be challenged to make decisions in the midst of situations and problems that have no definitive solutions.  There will be fewer opportunities to tie things up with a nice bow on top.  VUCA will ask you to live with ongoing dilemmas.

Embrace life-long learning as the norm.

Prepare to expend time, energy, and money to modify and grow your own skills and those of your staff.  Avoid the trap of viewing yourself and others as “having arrived, being fully developed, or being totally ready”.  VUCA will quickly show you that this assumption is far from the truth.

Maximize available resources.

Gain clarity about your human, financial, and technological resources, then solicit input around how to get the biggest bang for the buck with each of them.  VUCA will require you to eliminate waste.  Sometimes the problem isn’t a lack of additional resources but rather unwise use of those you already have.

Establish key connections.

You cannot isolate in a VUCA world.  You will need to build strategic relationships with people within your organization and outside of it.  How can others benefit you and your agenda, and how can you help them to accomplish their goals?  These are the kinds of value-add, mutually advantageous conversations in which you must engage.

See yourself and others as builders.

Uncertainty gives you a chance to make things and situations with passion:  an innovative workplace culture, higher functioning teams, new products and services, super-efficient processes, more profits.  And don’t forget:  as a leader it’s your job to teach others how to unleash their natural builder instincts.  When everybody’s building, the sky is the limit!

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