The VUCA leader: a new world of learning and development

Is the concept of VUCA still relevant today? Is it a concept that business leaders genuinely struggle with or is it simply a recent trend in management literature and the coaching industry?

Recent world events including BREXIT, the US election, terrorist attacks and the critical political situation of North Korea suggest that a VUCA environment is more prevalent than ever – and business leaders as well as politicians need the right skills and mindset to navigate and respond to the turbulence around them.

“To succeed in a VUCA world, We must expend energy in the areas that produce the highest payoff for our organizations. Our first priority must be developing and articulating a clear vision to drive our organizations’ actions.” – General George William Casey Jr. –

The traditional role of a global leader has been to identify opportunities, evaluate risks against those opportunities, develop strategy, motivate and lead people, make efficient business decisions – and to protect their people from uncertainty and ambiguity. In a VUCA environment, leaders have to struggle with a lack of predictability across political, economic, financial and technological structures, national security and global trade. Traditional management methods no longer seem adequate to address the level and speed of change and increased pressure can mean leaders are unable to respond quickly or appropriately enough. Leaders may jump quickly to a mistaken conclusion and take their organization in the wrong direction or they may respond by doing more of what they have always done rather than adapting to new circumstances. Others wait for more data and analysis before making decisions by which time circumstances have changed again.

Decision-making based on incomplete and changing information means that strategy development and execution need to work in tandem and that organizations need to be constantly ready for change. Leadership teams need to create a culture of continuous lifelong learning in their organizations so that they have the knowledge and capabilities they need to manage in a VUCA environment and that they are preparing VUCA leaders of the future.

What are the qualities that global leaders require to lead their organizations through the VUCA-world?

Vision – In uncertain and changing times, organizations need more than ever a clear vision of their direction with strong values aligning them to their end goals. A successful VUCA leader needs to establish and communicate a clear corporate vision and ensure it is understood by all staff, particularly across distance and cultures.

Understanding – A VUCA leader needs to have the ability to understand multiple perspectives and be ready to seek out opinions that are different to their own. They should be sure that they appreciate the diverse views of their employees, customers and other stakeholders and can be open to new approaches and creative problem-solving.

Co-operation – Successful VUCA leaders engage with their teams and build a culture of collaboration and commitment. A good VUCA-leader actively listens to their employees’ opinions and includes them in their decision-making processes. High levels of trust and empowerment mean teams are more likely to stay focused on the vision despite changing circumstances and go the extra mile when necessary.

Agility – The ability to flex and adapt while also remaining focused on the organizational goals key to success in the VUCA-world. Leaders need to deal with the unknown, make decisions quickly, adopt new approaches and create multiple contingency plans rather than a linear long-term plan. And they need to develop this agile working culture among their teams and future leaders.

VUCA leaders never stop learning and developing; they require a new leadership mindset and should be ready to work continuously to develop their skills. Intercultural training and coaching can play a major part in leadership development programs in any organization working in a VUCA environment.