Leadership used to be a more linear process before the VUCA era. A successful manager followed a well-defined path to success. All they had to do was gather all necessary data, decide on the best course of action, express a clear goal, and then assist the rest of the team in achieving it. However, in today’s turbulent environment, information is constantly changing, making the aim a moving target.
A rigorous plan won’t cut it in today’s world, which is more slick than ever. In this case, having an overarching goal and a flexible method to accomplishing it is preferable. What does it mean to have a flexible approach? For starters, it entails avoiding rigid deadlines. These are set goals, such as “keep client calls under 10 minutes.” While these figures are simple to calculate and reassuring to see, they can be unduly restrictive. Static targets will result in stagnate approaches to meeting them in an organization. If the outside world changes, it will not adapt.
Instead, consider defining a more ambiguous aim and experimenting with different ways to achieve it. Set explicit parameters for acceptable outcomes to ensure your experiments are “safe to fail.” For example, it may be acceptable to lose X amount of revenue to fulfill a hazy aim like “more delighted customers,” but it is utterly unethical to break the law.
A team will be free to try out bold, unique ideas with sometimes unforeseen results if clear boundaries are in place. This structure will assist your organization in moving toward its ultimate vision while remaining open to new possibilities. You never know where you’ll wind up.
Clear-headed, calculated, and rational to a fault. These are some of the adjectives that come to mind when asked to define the ideal coworker. Unless you work on an interplanetary starship next door to Spock, they generally don’t apply to your coworkers.
However, keep in mind that they don’t characterize you either. The truth is that no one is completely logical. Although the human brain excels at analytical reasoning, it also has a slew of irrational quirks, biases, and oddities. Because people are complex, so are organizations.
There is a pervasive fallacy that people should check their emotions and feelings at the door when they go to work. Isn’t business just business? Even yet, this is a far cry from reality. Even an average day at work is full of emotional highs and lows, ranging from the frustrations of protracted meetings to the joys of break room banter. This, however, does not have to be a terrible thing. It’s part of what makes us human, in fact.
It also influences our decision-making. While we’d like to believe that our decisions and actions are founded on reason and facts, this isn’t always the case. Our brains, in fact, use a variety of shortcuts that influence our thinking.
Confirmation bias is one such shortcut. This is when we simply look at facts and details that confirm our preconceived notions. Another shortcut is our proclivity for the known. People and viewpoints that we already know or that remind us of our own are more likely to be favored and trusted. Then there’s the fundamental attribution error. This happens when we focus on a single person or action as the source of an issue rather than seeing the larger picture.
While these biases might occasionally aid our thinking, they can also lead us to incorrect conclusions. Consider a department that is falling short of its objectives. You can jump to the conclusion that the manager is to blame for the lack of leadership. The underlying cause, on the other hand, could be more dispersed and subtle, such as an impending economic downturn or a seasonal cold slowing down the workforce.
And as a result of all of these minor oddities, organizations become complicated and occasionally irrational institutions. When confronted with a problem, it’s critical to be aware of them. When attempting to fix a systemic problem, it is also possible to reduce their influence by including various perspectives. That way, the discourse won’t be dominated by one person’s inescapable peculiarities.
Years of preparation, a written score, and a capable conductor are all necessary ingredients. An orchestra needs a lot to do justice to a superb symphony. However, having a defined aim in mind makes this difficult task easier: to perform a true reproduction of a composed piece.
A jazz ensemble faces a unique set of challenges. Every time they perform a song, it may and should be absolutely different. This improvised method necessitates a special form of communication. There isn’t a set score to follow, so each musician must be aware of subtle cues and unexpected riffs.
This dynamic musical approach comes with both risks and rewards. The band will occasionally lose their spark, but when they do, the consequences are unrivaled. A complicated world need new communication methods.
A leader’s role in the previous, simpler society was to communicate in plain and straightforward tales. Their job, similar to that of a conductor, was to ensure that every member of an organization was aware of the group’s specific location. Then they had to lay down step-by-step instructions for everyone to follow in order to get there. This was a very hierarchical, linear communication model.
The VUCA universe is more akin to jazz. Because the desired outcome is still unclear, the destination cannot be specified in any detail. That does not, however, imply that complex organizations should be aimless. They should still have a broad idea of where they wish to go. For example, a corporation may know that it wants to digitize more services but hasn’t decided which ones should go digital.
Leaders must modify their vocabulary in order to communicate more flexible goals. Reframing discussions to focus on journeys and processes rather than final destinations and concrete stages might be beneficial. Metaphors can be extremely useful. Is your company looking to “forge a new course” or just “tack slightly starboard”? Focus on how you want the company to move in the now rather than the future.
Adapting to this technique can be unsettling or weird if your company is used to clear messages. Don’t be hesitant to use such feelings in your writing. Make it clear to your staff that accepting unpredictability can be both frightening and thrilling. Working in VUCA conditions necessitates being at ease with these conflicting emotions.
Consider the most significant changes in your life. Were they planned and deliberate, like relocating to a new city? Or were they unplanned events, such as a car accident or a business failure? Perhaps the changes were so subtle that you didn’t notice them until they were over.
There’s no doubting that change can manifest itself in a variety of ways. However, change is unavoidable, no matter what form it takes. As a result, knowing how to handle it properly is an essential talent for any leader. Those who can adjust to changing conditions are most able to deal with change and complexity. They mature to meet new problems, see new challenges as opportunities to develop new talents, and tackle an insecure environment with aplomb. Every change should be viewed as an opportunity to learn and improve.
There are two types of people in the world, according to Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck. The first group considers themselves to be absolutely secure. They believe that their identity is set and unchanging. The second group considers themselves to be dynamic. It’s still a work in progress for them to figure out who they are.
It’s no surprise that the second sort of individual, one who has a fluid self-concept, is better adapted to the VUCA world’s ever-changing environment. But don’t be discouraged if you think you fit into the first category; anyone can change into the second. The key is to acquire a mindset that allows you to change yourself. This attitude understands that, while the environment is turbulent and beyond our control, we have influence over how we respond to it.
Developing a self-transforming mindset can be as simple as asking various questions. Don’t get caught up in the question of “who am I?” “What have I done before?” or “What have I done before?” Ask yourself, “What can I change?” instead. “What do I want to be in the future?” and “What do I want to be in the future?”
This approach can be adopted by entire organizations. Examine the rules and ideals that govern your company. Do they insist on maintaining the status quo, or do they encourage exploration, variation, and adaptability? Even seemingly obvious restrictions like “employ just the best qualified person” might suffocate a self-transforming mindset. Bringing in new talent with less experience or a unique background could provide the needed fresh energy and new perspective to adapt to changes.
The crucial thing to remember is that development and growth is a never-ending process for both individuals and groups. There is no definitive end point or finish line to reach. The VUCA world is constantly evolving, and your community must be willing to adjust as well.
Your lamp goes on instantaneously when you flick a light switch. When you plant a seed, though, you don’t expect to be picking fresh fruit in minutes. Instead, you must till the soil, water the dirt, and ensure that the new sapling receives adequate sunshine.
Developing an organization that is suited for the VUCA world needs patience, just like creating a lush garden. There isn’t a magic button or lever to pull. It all comes down to establishing the proper environment and then allowing nature to take its course. Organizational transformation isn’t something that can be imposed; it has to be nurtured.
You’ve probably realized how critical it is to adapt to an increasingly turbulent, uncertain, complex, and confusing reality. You’re undoubtedly salivating at the prospect of taking on the new tasks it brings. And that’s fantastic!
It’s vital to keep in mind, though, that you won’t be able to completely overhaul everything in one day. In reality, taking things slowly has its advantages. It’s easy to handle every possible issue as though it’s a crisis that requires immediate attention. However, there are two significant drawbacks to this strategy. For one thing, it may encourage us to stick with tried-and-true answers rather than examining new possibilities. Two, it may lead us to make changes without fully comprehending the spectrum of possible results.
Create a space for slow thought to avoid these problems. This could mean devoting the initial portion of a meeting to unpacking a topic without presenting any solutions for smaller topics. For larger undertakings, this could entail planning ahead for weeks of experimentation, trial and error, and unfettered exploration with no expectations of outcomes.
In any situation, the idea is to establish a flexible and open workplace rather than a strict and hierarchical one. Ensure that feedback is given and received in a timely manner. Make it clear where you’re going without committing to a certain destination. Also, remember that every setback, failure, or unexpected turn is an opportunity to learn something new.
Don’t be discouraged if things don’t seem to be changing right away. Adopting these behaviors is a gradual process rather than a one-time occurrence. The more you work to change your company’s thinking, the more comfortable it will feel in our unpredictable, uncertain, complex, and confusing world.
The world is no longer as straightforward as it once was. Our society is getting more volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous as it becomes more networked, fast-paced, and technologically advanced. These circumstances necessitate a new type of leadership that is adaptable, fluid, and agile. As they pursue the probable and conceivable, successful leaders should embrace change, encourage input, and empower their organizations to experiment and explore.
Creating new spaces for discourse is sometimes the best approach to nurture creativity as recommended by the book, Simple Habits for Complex Times. Create working groups made up of unique mixes of people when approaching an issue. The importance of diversity cannot be overstated. Senior personnel and newcomers from various departments should be mixed together. You might be astonished by the creative solutions that arise.
Check out my related post: What leadership lessons can we learn from New Amsterdam?