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Leading in a VUCA World

By Deb Calvert (1174 words)
Posted in Management on July 7, 2014

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In the good old days (or so they tell me), senior managers could thoroughly research an issue and deliberate on the pros and cons before reaching a sound decision. Those decisions became precedents, clearly defining a path and eliminating the guesswork. The pace of change was measured, controlled by the leader’s preferences and the team’s capacity and capabilities.

Those days are gone forever. The Center for Creative Leadership has coined a new term – VUCA – to describe the dawning of this new age. VUCA describes the world we live in and must lead in as increasingly Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous.

As a senior manager, you are already taxed with all the burdens and accountabilities of your day-to-day workload. It’s adequately challenging to simply maintain and stay on course in the here-and-now. Throw in an occasional change and, suddenly, your job is multiplied with long hours, disgruntled employees, added stress, and the performance pressures associated with leading a new initiative.

It’s survivable, and you would not be where you are now if you hadn’t run that gauntlet a few times already.

But what’s a leader to do when change is relentless and its effects are constant?

In a VUCA world, that’s exactly what leaders are faced with.

It can be overwhelming to consider coping with the unexpected upheavals and dramatic fluctuations of a volatile world. It can be maddening to mandate change when uncertainty undulates just beneath the surface of every decision you make. When the complexity of what you’re doing convolutes others’ understanding and depletes their motivation, it can range from unsettling to utterly unproductive. In addition to all that, operating in ambiguity can be frustrating as you are forced to resort to best guesses and temporary patchwork fixes while waiting for that oh-so elusive clarity you crave.


At times like these, the worst thing a senior manager can do is add to the instability the team is already feeling. Your doubts, frustrations and hesitations will only intensify the VUCA impact. Instead, to lead in a VUCA world, you must be a rock-solid stabilizing force. Despite the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity you and your team are mired in, you must find your firm footing and tether your team to your foundation.

Here are three ways you can find your footing plus the one key ingredient your team needs to see you as a stabilizing force once you have that footing.


Leading in a VUCA World

1. Keep your eyes on the prize.


Take the long view out into the horizon, focusing on where you are going. Think of yourself as a ship’s captain. You will have to navigate with the currents and, although your route will change as the ship is tossed about, you will course correct continuously and use the elements to your advantage so you reach your intended destination.

2. Let go of the status quo.


So long as you remain anchored to the present (or, worse yet, the past), you will be unable to move forward. Develop curiosity about possibilities and openness to new ways of thinking. Reignite your passion for learning and experimenting so you can get comfortable with trying what’s new. Change yourself so you can nurture change.

3. Don’t be too frail to fail.


Be tough enough to fail. You can take it. When you give yourself permission to fail, you’ll also have license to get outside you comfort zone. When you can boldly say “Let me try,” you’re also demonstrating that you and your ego are strong enough to withstand disappointments. When you fail multiple times, you will be all the closer to success in a VUCA world.

It’s imperative for you to feel as confident and sure-footed as possible before you ask others to tether themselves to you and your plans. When you have a firm foundation, there’s one more ingredient you’ll need to be a stabilizing force for others who are navigating a VUCA world. That imperative ingredient is trust.

Trust breeds security.

Low or no trust makes everyone insecure. The impact, as Dr. Stephen R. Covey explains in “The Speed of Trust,” is that both the time it takes to do your work and the cost of that work increases when trust is low. Inversely, high levels of trust result in reduced work time and reduced costs.

In a VUCA world, you can’t be effective without a high degree of trust that accelerates work productivity
and keeps expenses to a minimum.

It’s important to note, however, that trust is a two-way street. You must be trustworthy AND be willing and able to trust others in order for there to be a high degree of trust. If you are mistrusting and skeptical about others, it will affect the way you are perceived, too.

To foster two-way trust be sure you, yourself, are not operating in a VUCA manner. Be predictable and transparent as much as you can be. Invite others to do the same so misunderstandings aren’t barriers to trust. Keep the VUCA world outside the bubble of trust you build from your steady foundation so you and your team are fully equipped to handle the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity that is our new norm.



{#/pub/images/DebCalvertNew.jpg}Written by Deb Calvert, President, People First Productivity Solutions-Author of the DISCOVER Questions book series, Deb has worked as a sales productivity specialist and sales researcher since 2000. She is certified as a Master Sales Coach, Master Trainer, and host of CONNECT! an online radio show for selling professionals where listeners ignite their selling power in just an hour. Deb helps companies to boost productivity through people development. This work includes leadership program design and facilitation, strategic planning with executive teams, team effectiveness work, and performance management program design. 


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Here are some related articles you may be interested in:  

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