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The Importance of Strong Leadership in Times of VUCA

A term first used in military environments, VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity), describes the kind of environment in which today’s organizations are increasingly operating. New technology and competitors, evolving customer demands, and changes in the regulatory landscape, among other factors, all result in four distinct types of challenges that company leaders must face:

  • Volatility – Challenges are unexpected, unstable, and may last for an unknown duration
  • Uncertainty – Causes and effects are unknown and the future is unpredictable
  • Complexity – Information and variables are plentiful and overwhelming
  • Ambiguity – Situations are vague and hard to interpret

Every organization is subject to varying degrees of VUCA, both internally and externally, and some of these factors will be beyond company leaders’ control. However, strong leadership can have a positive impact on a company’s ability to navigate and overcome VUCA challenges. Here are four ways leaders can make all the difference in successfully guiding the organization through change in times of VUCA.

Provide an Inspiring Vision

When times are uncertain and ambiguous, people need to understand why certain changes are happening in the first place, and then they need a line of sight to the end goal. Leaders can provide the vision and direction that helps employees to be less fearful and resentful of the changes and uncertainties happening around them. A strong vision not only helps individuals see what the organization will look like in the future, but it also explains how certain processes will be improved over time. With a clear, compelling vision, leaders can inspire employees, answer their questions, and allay their concerns, putting them in a better position to embrace change and navigate it successfully.

Define the Strategic Plan

Once employees see the vision for change, they will naturally want to understand how all the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity will impact them day to day. A strategic plan brings the vision for change alive by detailing the timetable for shifts in certain processes and explaining how individual and team responsibilities will change. With a clearer understanding of how the vision for change will be implemented, employees will be more likely to connect the dots between their evolving work environment and what they can do to be successful.

Communicate Effectively

Communication is at the heart of every organizational change effort, and leaders play an important role not just in communicating the vision and strategy to their teams but also in listening and creating opportunities for healthy dialogue. Leaders who communicate early, often, and consistently help others remain focused and build a common understanding across the whole team. Some examples of effective communication leaders can incorporate into daily activities include:

  • Virtual focus groups and chat rooms that enable all employees, including those who work remotely, to share their experiences and provide feedback
  • Team meetings that focus on a particular process that is changing and how employees can approach it
  • One-on-one discussions that provide individuals with advice and coaching for how to navigate specific challenges

Provide Consistent Support and Reinforcement

Because there is always likely to be an element of VUCA in the workplace, employees will benefit from leader support that helps them navigate change on an ongoing, day-to-day basis. Company leaders can sustain the energy around change and support employees through it by:

  • Providing ongoing coaching and mentoring to help employees adjust their mindset and behaviors
  • Modelling desired behaviors for embracing change
  • Supporting employee learning and development, including periodic reinforcement to keep new skills fresh and top of mind
  • Celebrating successes and milestones

All companies face times of VUCA, and those that pursue and embrace change will be better able to evolve and grow than those that do not. Strong leadership not only helps individuals understand change but also positions them to embrace it and thrive in an ever-evolving work environment. By taking clear steps to communicate and support employees through change, leaders can guide the organization to success in times of VUCA.


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