5 VUCA Leadership Strategies for Uncertain Times

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Uncertainty is all around us, never more so than today. Constant turmoil and inability to handle stress are causing health hazards to people working in various industries, some perhaps leading to depression. We often see news articles of celebrities openly admitting to it. Yes, we are VUCA times.

So, what is VUCA? The acronym expands to Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous.

Volatility – unstable challenges

Uncertainty – unknown outcomes or the inability to know everything fully

Complexity – many interconnected and interdependent moving parts

Ambiguity – lack of clarity or being open to more than one interpretation

The idea was coined during the Gulf War of the nineties. The frontline soldiers and leaders were finding it difficult to handle daily tactics due to the VUCA environment on the ground. Today, the external environment in which businesses operate influences constant change and creates VUCA times.

To navigate VUCA times successfully, leaders need to be alert and open to changing their tactics and plans. They should be flexible to shifting tangentially from the original approach when needed. Awareness of external factors influencing the business is essential for leaders to adjust the course and pace internally.

The ability to plan and act to address the current tactical challenges while continuing to focus on the future is an invaluable asset for a leader. Over time, it gets assimilated into their nature.

The following strategies can help leaders do just that:

  1. Stay positive: This allows the leader to see opportunities by shifting mental gears quickly. Otherwise, the leader is in danger of overlooking alternative paths. While the leader’s optimistic attitude helps drive the team, his/her mood and perspective can greatly influence the team and the team’s productivity, in turn, directly impacts business outcomes.
  2. Be transparent and honest in communication: This allows trust levels within the team to improve. Leaders must focus on creating a context that enables the emergence of desired outcomes. Openness helps the team to better understand the business environment and team dynamics, creating a framework facilitating multiple solutions to emerge. This gives the ability to handle various possible outcomes using perhaps simulation as a technique.
  3. Demonstrate empathy and emotional intelligence: Having a line of sight into the skills and performance or capability of the team is one thing, but being able to comprehend the emotional situation of an individual in an organization and motivating him/her using empathy can go a long way. A conversation over a coffee, words of reassurance, inspiring by leading with humility are critical human aspects that a leader needs to demonstrate, especially during tough times. Communicating effectively with different levels of an audience requires connecting at an emotional level, inspiring loyalty.
  4. Explore new opportunities: A principal of a school once said we should build character in our children, most importantly, courage to handle problems with a solution mindset. This habit has the power to make you look for opportunities in challenging situations. Leaders, therefore, are encouraged to approach the problems and challenges with an enthusiasm to solve a puzzle.
  5. Communicate a clear vision: Every organization at the core should have a strong vision to guide its actions. It is the goal that benchmarks success while defining the purpose and value of the company to all its stakeholders. Great leaders are savvy in creating a vision and then sharing it. Establishing a carefully planned vision with your team defines goals for the group and creates a personal ownership for every individual.

Strategy needs to include a clear vision, flexible implementation, agile behaviour, and effective communication. Aligning the leadership team to the business vision and values is vital as it provides the direction, while the means of achieving success can differ. Leaders’ behaviour and ability to direct the team should be in line with the vision of an organization.

Company culture and employee engagement are significant challenges for businesses today, and leaders sit at the heart of driving these. Improving cognitive strength, along with emotional intelligence, is critical for leaders to succeed in VUCA times.

Handling VUCA times with courage and enthusiasm will open opportunities for leaders for personal development as well as professional learning. It will create resilient leaders who will stay relevant, adapt and grow, not just during good times but also through transformative phases of an organization, and life in general, with ease.

“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not turbulence itself, but to act with yesterday’s logic” – Peter Drucker.

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