VUCA situations require organisational leaders to challenge conventional mindsets and practices in the face of relentless and rapid change. Industry and market experts have identified a few prioritised qualities necessary for leaders to thrive during a VUCA crisis.
In his book titled Leaders Make the Future, author Bob Johansen stresses that individuals need new skills, approaches, and behaviors to manage in the face of the four VUCA threats.
The ideal VUCA leader is an individual who contends with the fact that there is nothing set in stone. Such a leader understands that rules, regulations, and standards change all the time – the difference lies in the magnitude.
Essentially, VUCA leaders function like chameleons, shaping according to immediate environmental conditions. Employees will feel more at ease and inspired under the leadership of VUCA leaders who proactively serve as positive agents during the most calamitous climates.
VUCA leaders need to make a conscious effort towards understanding the challenges and concerns of their employees. It is essential to discuss workplace issues openly and often. The best VUCA leaders empathise with the challenges faced by employees on all levels and seek to resolve insecurities at the earliest juncture, which prevents fears from spiralling out of control.
According to the World Economic Forum, “An empathic environment can increase understanding among coworkers, quality engagement and leadership efficacy, and can improve relationships with clients and stakeholders.”
Additionally, VUCA leaders make it a point to rally every worker towards a collective mission, eliminating the habit of working in silos and employee disengagement. VUCA leaders invest time and effort in coordinated perspectives while encouraging diverse opinions from disparate individuals.
Essentially, VUCA leaders enrich the lives of others while they navigate the multiplex forces from all angles.
VUCA leaders know that the status quo is merely a snapshot of the complex world. They are ever-ready to embrace new thoughts, concepts, and ideas according to rising trends and novel demands. As such, VUCA leaders believe in revising existing practices regularly and prefer working with living documents rather than static information.
A VUCA-prepared leader actively seeks the latest data from reliable sources in adding value to their decisions. The rise of modern technology (the 4th industrial revolution) through IoT, cloud computing, machine learning, mixed reality media, and artificial intelligence makes it easier for VUCA leaders to access and convey data with improved success, reach, and convenience.
Seasoned VUCA leaders interpret their environment through a ripple effect. They understand that every thought, word, and action has a lasting consequence that affects themselves and the people around them. On that note, leaders are incredibly conscientious when making decisions during a VUCA situation, where every move may result in unforeseen complications from the environment.
VUCA leaders continually hone their employee management skills, understanding workers’ needs during times of strife and ways to keep them motivated throughout the bumpy journey. These leaders also value a growth-mindset, with an appreciation for soft skills and positive culture in tiding through the most demanding challenges.
Chinwe Esimai, Managing Director of Citigroup, shares, “Our inclinations, fueled by our culture, backgrounds, and experiences, influence who we are, but we are responsible for who we continually become.”
VUCA leaders assume a comprehensive viewpoint of the situation. Every business plan or strategy takes on multiple aspects – through tackling long, medium, and short-term goals and objectives. Additionally, leaders understand that plans may change over time and are willing to “bend (and not break) according to the environmental pressure.”
A visionary leader looks further into the future than others and sticks closely to the vision. Some historical leaders exemplify visionary tactics by achieving what others may deem as impossible.
Visionary leaders have the habit of conjuring thought experiments, considering possibilities, and anticipating practical issues that may strike at any time down the road. The process requires leaders to consider and act upon the investments necessary to overcome a problem, including human resources and technological preparedness.
A VUCA-trained leader will examine the facts from multiple sources and study the consequences of each relationship. By doing so, they can effectively dissect the complex problems in a VUCA world and progress without being burdened by excessive details.
An Aptitude for Critical Thinking
Time is usually a luxury in VUCA scenarios, and situations turn on a dime. While VUCA leaders carefully plan for the future, there is equal importance in making critical decisions in the now. It is impossible to know everything, especially in a VUCA environment where data and practices get replaced fast and furiously.
However, experienced VUCA leaders attempt to make sense of the jumbled information by deploying a systematic approach or ritual toward sorting things out and rendering them less overwhelming.
The good news is that critical thinking is learnable through regular training and exercises that optimise sensemaking and problem-solving. Sometimes, the fastest and most effective way to improve critical thinking skills is by surrounding yourself with seasoned experts that stimulate analytical reasoning.
VUCA leaders are comparable to wartime leaders – sometimes, they need to make the most unpopular decisions to preserve the organisation. As such, they require copious amounts of confidence in standing by their beliefs and vision.
However, this does not mean that VUCA leaders are rigid. Leaders should continue to welcome open feedback and foster transparency at the workplace while having the resilience to reject a suggestion when necessary.
The Modern VUCA Leader
VUCA leaders require a significant number of unique skills and accept that they are always a work-in-progress. Accepting failure and shortcomings comes with the (strange) territory. Active and calculated risk-taking will steer organisations out of a rut, refocusing on growth and development.
Perhaps most importantly, every VUCA leader should compose a unique strategy in a world where generic leadership fails. While we may identify the skills and qualities to guide leaders through the VUCA storm, ultimately, they’ll need to establish their footing according to their specific needs and considerations.
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