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Leadership in a VUCA world

Leadership in a VUCA world
Published: January 10, 2012
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VUCA is an acronym used by the American Military to describe extreme conditions in Afghanistan and Iraq. It stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous.

This terminology is resonating with an increasing number of CEOs in today's volatile environment, as we try to make sense of the constantly changing challenges brought on by politics, economics, society, the environment and last but not least, COVID-19.

We seem to be shifting from an approach based around problem solving and planning aimed at reducing uncertainty, to a world where progress is made by actively engaging with uncertainty, requiring higher levels of leadership agility.

Here are some of the success factors we have identified around leading effectively in a VUCA world:

  • Always retain a clear vision against which judgements can be made, with agility to flex and respond appropriately to rapidly unfolding situations.
  • Provide clear direction and consistent messaging against a backdrop of continually shifting priorities, supported with the use of new virtual modes of communication where necessary.
  • Anticipate risks but don’t invest too much time in long-term strategic plans. Don’t automatically rely on past solutions and instead place increased value on new, temporary solutions, in response to such an unpredictable climate.
  • Think big picture. Make decisions based as much on intuition as analysis.
  • Capitalise on complexity. If your talent management strategy is working, then you should be confident that you have the right people in the right place. This will enable you to rapidly break down any challenge into bite size pieces and trust in the specialist expertise and judgement of those around you.
  • Be curious. Uncertain times bring opportunities for bold moves. Seize the chance to innovate.
  • Encourage networks rather than hierarchies – as we reach new levels of interconnection and interdependency collaboration yields more than competition.
  • Leverage diversity – as our networks of stakeholders increase in complexity and size, be sure to draw on the multiple points of view and experience they offer. Doing so will help you expect the unexpected.
  • Never lose focus on employee engagement. Provide strategic direction, whilst allowing people the freedom they need to innovate new processes, products and services.
  • Get used to being uncomfortable. Resist the temptation to cling on to outdated, inadequate processes and behaviours. Take leaps of faith and enjoy the adventure.

Impact's work, whether it be with multi-national companies, SMEs, governments, public sector organisations or not for profits, centres around creating powerful, facilitated encounters that recreate a VUCA world in a real and consequential way. We pride ourselves on providing leadership development that creates sufficient agility, dynamism and responsiveness to navigate through the VUCA landscape.

Does any of this resonate with you?

More about our work on change.

More about our diagnostic tool VUCA Q.