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What is VUCA?

Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous

What do these words mean for your leadership?

Are these just the latest jargony terms used by consultants to snag your attention? Or… do they signal clear and present danger for your leadership and the success of your organization? Not everything you face as a leader qualifies for the VUCA acronym, but if enough does, then you need to start to change the way you lead. 

Does any of this sound like your experience at work?

Things are moving very quickly, so quickly that just when you think you have an answer, circumstances and conditions shift. Changes are often unpredictable and slippery – they appear out of the least expected places – and shift again before you can get a handle on them. Things move quickly and there’s turbulence within and around the change. This is volatility.

Uncertainty is when you can’t predict the outcome of your change. Things you did in the past and forecasts from past success don’t necessarily work. Trying to predict the future in VUCA conditions is frustrating and unproductive. You end up working harder and getting nowhere.

If the issues you face involve different layers, diverse players and many interconnections that are hard to untangle, then you’re working in complexity. It’s impossible to see the precise cause of an effect, and the interdependencies among all the fast-moving parts make it difficult to know where to begin.

If you are having trouble seeing clearly exactly what’s going on and if the circumstances of the issue you are facing come with multiple interpretations, any of which could be right, but aren’t quite right, then you’re facing ambiguity. When things are hazy and there’s more grey than black and white, it’s really hard to interpret the situation.

When first coming across VUCA conditions, most leaders attempt to work harder using their tried and true leadership competencies. It’s frustrating when no matter how hard you try to predict outcomes, look for root causes and direct people how to solve the issues, things either don’t get better or get worse.

 

In VUCA conditions, leaders need a new set of skills. It’s like levelling up in a video game. What got you here is good, but it won’t get you further.

 

Usual Problem Solving Doesn’t WorkNew Approaches Needed
Focus on eventsFocus on the system
Collect specific dataLook for data trends
Root cause analysisLook for patterns
Expert analysisGather diverse perspectives
Solve the issueEvolve the issue
Predict a specific outcomeHead in a direction
Direct how to manage the changeEngage stakeholders
Plan for a final solutionExperiment towards success

 

Many leaders study systems and facilitative leadership in  development programs. Unfortunately, it’s hard to put those ideas into practice when things are, well, volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

On this website you’ll find a variety of ways that you can learn ways to be a better leader in complexity, see the context you’re working in more clearly and take different types of action.

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