24 March 2023

8 Leadership Strategies for VUCA times

These exceptional times require exceptional leaders to stand up and be counted.

Perhaps the first to describe a VUCA world (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) were Bennis and Nanus (1985). Present day, Covid-19 has been a catalyst which sees many businesses starting to take note and accept the truth around the global phenomenon of a VUCA World. We are living in extraordinary times which means it’s essential to change the way we do things. We cannot continue to create a better world by doing what we have always done. These exceptional times require exceptional leaders to stand up and be counted.

It’s worth asking yourself a few questions:

  • Are you prepared to take on a VUCA world?
  • Do you see yourself as a transformational leader?
  • Do you focus on innovative ways to solve problems?
  • Are you able to bring calm to the storm during very difficult times?
  • Are you prepared to show up for your team and collaborate in an authentic and vulnerable way?

Here’s just some of the questions that should ignite that fire inside to lead differently for the world we live in. Even those with extensive experience may be surprised to hear that this doesn’t guarantee they will have the right skills or strategies in place when leading through disruption. We are continually evolving just like the times we live in.

How to transform vuca
A great way to help transform VUCA is to turn it on its head. You will be surprised to see what solutions can arise as a consequence. At TNM we use the following to help turn chaos into clarity.

  • Volatility leads to Versatility
  • Uncertainty leaves room for Understanding
  • Complexity leads to Collaboration
  • Ambiguity creates Awareness

Time to get your hands dirty
Jon Mertz (2014) highlighted the DURT model. He explains through VUCA times leaders should be Direct, Understandable, Reliable and Trustworthy.

  • Be Direct in Complex Situations
  • Be Understandable in Ambiguous Situations
  • Be Reliable in Volatile Situations
  • Be Trustworthy in Uncertain Situations

He goes on to explain why leaders cannot match VUCA with VUCA charactisterists. That we actively need to build on these and transform them into something new that can inspire our teams.

The 8 leadership strategies
At TNM we believe that even through the most difficult, chaotic times we can create opportunities. These situations are often the lifeline that take you to true business success. We’ve put together our 8 core strategies to help you maximise these opportunities. Taking you from not only surviving but also thriving through VUCA times.

1. Developing cognitive flexibility

Developing cognitive flexibility enables you to envision multiple scenarios, develop different solutions simultaneously and pull the plug and move on when an approach isn’t working – (Colvin, 2020).

The pandemic has taught us to evolve and adapt quickly. There has never been a period of time where we have had to adapt, stop and start strategies as quickly as we have done throughout the pandemic. Cognitive Flexibility supports being able to think of different strategies without getting too attached to any one of them for a particular time. Staying on your toes and being fully aware of all the opportunities is paramount when they arise.

 2. Strong system focus

Most organizations do not rise to the level of their goals. They fall to the level of their systems – (Grier, 2021).

It’s great  having a goal but you can set yourself to fail without having strong systems and processes in place to get you there. As well as thinking about the end goal, determine the strategic steps and infrastructure you need to get you there. Work on the small steps and milestones that help you achieve that end goal. Systems and processes are an ever changing beast, so the sooner you get started with them the more flexible and responsive you can be in the future.

3. People first
This has become a widespread trend in the last decade. Organisations putting their people first, whether that’s their customer, staff or stakeholders. When we focus on creating the right culture that is authentic, accepts vulnerability and promotes open conversations, teams collaborate better. Focusing on this collaboration means you can celebrate the successes of every single person and work on supporting one another which naturally results in success.

4. Problem solving

I’ve got 99 problems but VUCA ain’t one – (TNM, 2022)

When we have problems it’s not necessarily a bad thing. The danger arises when we do not have the right culture in place to solve them. Create a coaching culture, this helps you to face problems head on and ask the right questions so you can solve them. This also allows leaders to find out who needs support and identify priorities. Creating this type of culture helps support everyone as a leader and makes them responsible for finding the opportunities that are ahead, and thrive during times of disruption.

5. Learn to love change
Businesses run on schedules, meetings and forecasts. We have been indoctrinated to know that intentional planning creates purposeful implementation. However, in these volatile times, we need to take a step away from the rigid restrictions and move towards flexibility. Move and adapt with the change and use systems and processes to support this action.

6. Stay curious

Egon Zehndeaving conducted an analysis of executives’ performance over a 30-year period wherein they reported curiosity was the only one of four traits (the others being insight, engagement and determination) to be correlated with all eight leadership competencies the firm deemed critical to a leader’s success. – (Dr. Alison Horstmeyer, 2020)

Curiosity can be overlooked when it comes to leadership strategies and skills. However it is fundamental for being a catalyst for creating innovation, managing change and successful problem solving. Through curiosity we learn to ask the right questions, form a natural desire to dig deeper into situations and this results in clarity during VUCA times.

7. Keep things simple

Execution thrives with simplicity and transparency. Execution doesn’t like complexity. As complexity increases it becomes more difficult to maintain focus. – (McChesney, 2020)

Don’t be a VUCA leader and create more ambiguity and complexity. It can be easy to panic and want to throw your energy into lots of ideas at the same time. The best thing you can do for yourself and your team is to focus on doing one thing well. Keeping it simple will allow your team to manage focus during VUCA times.

8. Just do it

Do rapid prototyping that allows you to fail early, fail often and fail cheaply — while learning along the way – (Johansen, 2018)

Yes we may be borrowing Nike’s strapline here, but it helps to demonstrate one very important point. In VUCA climates the key is to ‘Just do it’. As a leader, promote rapid prototyping and proof of concept.  Don’t heavily invest in creating perfect prototypes without knowing whether your audience is going to actually connect with it. Instead you should work on innovations by creating a solid proof of concept, that allows you to adjust and move forward towards success.

Are you ready to lead through vuca times?
There are many strategies you can adopt during VUCA times. These are extraordinary times we are currently in. Our leaders of today can create a better world for tomorrow. However it won’t be solely about the leaders in place, but if they can develop and inspire the next generation of leaders. Will they instill the wisdom required to adapt and create clarity during VUCA times? What role will you play, what leader will you become and are you prepared to step up to the responsibility required to take us collectively forward?

If you would like to explore how TNM can support your organisation in developing leaders to rise to the challenge of VUCA times, book a no-commitment discovery call with one of our consultants.

Written by TNM Coaching


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