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Leadership in a VUCA World

“If we want things to stay as they are, everything will have to change.”

From The Leopard, a novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa that chronicles the changes in Sicilian life and society during the Risorgimento

If you haven’t heard of VUCA yet you’ve got some learning to do!

The idea of VUCA was introduced by the U.S. Army War College in 1991 to describe the more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world which resulted from the end of the Cold War. Since then, the use of VUCA has become trendy and is now being used to examine strategic leadership ideas and approaches. So what does VUCA represent?

VUCA is an effective description of what is occurring in our business and economic environments today. Technology drives Volatility and Complexity. Economic and societal conditions create Uncertainty. Consequently, all of this gets wrapped up in Ambiguity. The arrows of life and work are constantly firing; new trends, new technology, economic troubles, global concerns, social unrest, etc. Trying to understand it all while determining a practical path forward can seem insurmountable.

So, what’s a leader to do in a VUCA world? The answer: Develop competencies and behaviors that combat VUCA and create a new VUCA paradigm.

  • Volatility can be countered with Vision because vision is even more vital in turbulent times.
  • Uncertainty can be countered with Understanding, the ability of a leader to stop, look, and listen. To be effective in a VUCA environment, leaders must learn to look and listen beyond their functional areas of expertise to make sense of the volatility and to lead with vision. This requires leaders to develop and demonstrate teamwork and collaboration skills.
  • Complexity can be countered with Clarity, the deliberative process to make sense of the chaos. Leaders must learn to quickly and clearly tune into all the minutiae associated with the chaos and make better more informed business decision.
  • Ambiguity can be countered with Agility, the ability to communicate across the organization and to move quickly to apply solutions.

To be succeed in a VUCA world, today’s leaders must develop and exhibit effectiveness in four key areas. These competencies are critical in the pursuit of business growth and profitability:

  1. Anticipating and reacting to the nature and speed of change.
  2. Acting decisively without always having clear direction and certainty.
  3. Navigating through complexity, chaos, and confusion.
  4. Maintaining effectiveness despite constant surprises and a lack of predictability.

As you select and develop your leadership team, organizations whose leaders are successful in creating and fostering Vision, Understanding, Clarity and Agility for their teams will achieve profitable business results.

About the Author: Theresa DeVries is an HR Business Partner at HR Collaborative. To learn more about Theresa,  connect with her on LinkedIn.

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