Leadership in a VUCA world

2020 is a year that will forever personalise the phrase ‘VUCA’ – volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. No longer a series of words with a sense of abstract meaning but something we have all learnt to live with as individuals, employees, and leaders.

VUCA is a new normal. It is not simply about crisis management, although there are obvious overlaps. It is about organisations adapting to thrive and survive in what has become an essentially hostile external environment.

Leadership in a VUCA world demands specific skills. Join us for an overview of the concept and an exploration of the attributes and skills needed to excel in the years ahead.

Skip ahead for five skills that audit leaders need to prioritise in a VUCA situation.

VUCA is an important concept

Military leaders are trained to operate in VUCA environments: anticipating outcomes, adapting battle plans and communicating orders. Business leaders are not and yet it is often their reality.

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In practice, the four elements are interrelated; they are external to an organisation and therefore largely unable to be controlled. It is easy to think of extreme global situations such as a stock market crash, pandemic or existential threats, however, the concept is also relevant at a local, sector, and/or industry level.

Futurist, Bob Johansen, adapted VUCA for the business world in his 2009 book, Leaders Make the Future. In a world reeling from a financial crisis, he used it to reflect the many turbulent and unpredictable forces of change that could affect organisations such as political instability, climate change, pandemic, technological developments and civil unrest.

The following table highlights some of the impacts that a VUCA environment might have; can you think of others that might apply within your sector?

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