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Leading in a VUCA World

A Radiant FutureImage by Gilderic via Flickr

We've come to expect a business environment -- a world in fact -- that is constantly changing. We get that.

Well, hold on. Because change is just the tip of the iceberg, at least according to futurists such as Dr. Bob Johansen, author of Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World. Remember when a generation was considered to be 25 years? Now it's six years.

The difference today between a 13-year old and a 19-year old is significant: a whole new "generation." That's rapid change!

Futurists like Johansen have begun to describe our world as a VUCA world. VUCA stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. The term started in the late 1990's in the military and is now used everywhere.

Leaders in this kind of environment have to be at their best on a personal level, self-aware, optimistic, focused amidst distractions, cool, calm and collected under pressure. We used to talk about seizing opportunities. Those windows of opportunity open and close very quickly in a VUCA world and leaders have to be "in the zone" to seize them.

A VUCA world sounds frightening and threatening. But the positive flip side of VUCA is vision, understanding, clarity and agility. Effective leaders in a VUCA world train their brains to:

  • "See the play before it happens." That's vision.
  • Understand themselves first and then others, building empathy.
  • Sense a situation clearly and simply by paying attention to how they pay attention.
  • Be prepared to take action based on alternative realities and unprecedented challenges.

One of the biggest take-aways for me as I think about operating and leading in a VUCA world is the difference between dilemmas and problems. We love to problem solve. However, many problems today are on a gigantic or global scale and are unsolvable. They're dilemmas and can be improved, but not solved. If a situation is a dilemma and we try to frame it as a problem to solve, we're in trouble.

Are you facing any dilemmas in your VUCA world that you've been trying to problem-solve? How's that working for you?

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