Development Dimensions International (DDI), jointly with The Conference Board, conducted a survey of 13,124 leaders across many organizations, industries, and countries. An extensive study. The work was released as the Global Leadership Forecast 2014 | 2015.

One of the focus areas is on VUCA – Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous – and the importance of having leaders capable to navigate these waters with skill, talent, and character. Although there is much to the study, this is a core element since leaders will either succeed well or fail miserably in how they step up to the VUCA leadership challenge.

What Is the VUCA Index?

DDI created a VUCA index to frame the survey and discussion. The overall VUCA index includes:

  • Anticipating and reacting to the nature and speed of change.
  • Acting decisively without always having clear direction and certainty.
  • Navigating through complexity, chaos, and confusion.
  • Maintaining effectiveness despite constant surprises and a lack of predictability.

Future Leaders(Global Leadership Forecast 2014 | 2015, DDI, page 11)

In thinking through this VUCA index, the key leadership elements seem to be:  Adapting, Deciding, Navigating, and Producing. Much more goes into each one, but this is a great pairing with DURT – Direct, Understandable, Reliable, and Trustworthy.

One of the disheartening statistics from the DDI study is only 18% said their leaders are “very capable” of leading through a VUCA world. A leadership gap exists, especially since our world is often volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous.

What Skills Are Required in a VUCA World?

The report identified four skills “that, when practiced effectively, had the greatest impact on leader preparedness and confidence in addressing the challenges of VUCA:

  • Managing and introducing change. Unsurprisingly, this was the strongest predictor of a leader’s confidence in the face of VUCA.
  • Building consensus and commitment. This skill is critical for eliminating discord and misunderstanding.
  • Inspiring others toward a challenging future vision. To induce others to act, leaders first must be inspired themselves.
  • Leading across generations. This skill is key to forging a shared purpose despite diverse employee viewpoints and motivations.”

(Global Leadership Forecast 2014 | 2015, DDI, page 11)

What Does This Mean for Future Leaders?

We can take a standard route in what leaders can do. We can talk about getting out of your comfort zones. We can talk about taking calculated risks and how we can benchmark other companies and leaders. We can…. Just fill it in with the usual stuff! The usual stuff doesn’t cut it anymore in a VUCA world.

I am going to take a different road on what leaders should do. Parts may be simple. Parts may make you roll your eyes. Parts will be difficult. Here are four things I believe future leaders (and current ones) should do to manage change, build consensus, inspire others, and lead across generations.

1 – Change a habit or routine each month. We all get stuck in the same routines each morning and evening. We likely even plan our work days in a standard way. We eat the same thing for breakfast. We read the same newspapers. We talk to the same people. Our habits and routines become our autopilot leadership.

If we are going to manage and lead change, then we need to experience making a change each month. By doing this, we will exercise our change leadership muscle often, and it will gain strength.

To me, this will be one of the most challenging elements to do. First, we need to identify a habit or routine to change and then determine what new habit or routine we want to begin. Next, we will need to begin. We will need to monitor it and develop ways to ensure it sticks. As we go, we will need to measure or think about what the result is of our new habit or routine.

Just as organizations can become stale because we do things the same each year, so can leaders. If we really want to experience change and strengthen our leadership capabilities, then we can do this by starting with ourselves each month.

2 – Meditate. To lead effectively as our environments change, we need to time to center and sort through our thoughts. We need to bring a calmness to everything running through our minds. Similarly, to work effectively with others and build great teams, we need to exhibit a calmness, steadiness, thoughtfulness, and sureness.

Understanding the flow of our minds and sorting through what matters will enable us to be better leaders. Mindful leaders may be the stronger leaders in a swirling VUCA world. Taking the time to meditate may be the difference maker in raising the standard of our leadership.

3 – Read poetry. Glynn Young wrote a book about the importance of poetry at work. I agree. There is something about reading poetry or poetic writings that inspire our soul and bring a fresh breeze to our day. Inspiring ourselves and others is an essential leadership element. As leaders, we need to set aside time each week, if not more often, to read a poem or two. Explore different types of poetry or even watch someone deliver their beat poetry or slam poetry on YouTube.

As leaders, we need to inspire and be inspired. Read a poem a day and kindle your leadership spirit.

4 – Volunteer at a middle school or high school. Leading across generations is vital. Supporting, encouraging, and challenging the next generation of leaders will help ensure we have the leadership bench strength. To let your guard down and interact with others who are twenty to thirty years younger than you will strengthen your ability to work with and engage with the 20-somethings in your workplace. Yes, you may have kids, and this definitely helps. However, interacting with young people you don’t know will stretch you and open your mind even more.

As leaders, we need to embrace youth in order to revive our own leadership and awaken the next generation of leaders.

Step Up Your Future Leader Self in a VUCA World

As much as there is written about leadership, I am not sure we are doing any better at improving the way we lead. The leadership gap grows. Or, as we fill in one leadership gap, another appears. If this is true, then we need to become more nimble leaders. A VUCA world may require leaders to do more than just fill in a gap. VUCA may require new leadership thoughts and actions.

What suggestions do you have on how to enhance our leadership skills in a VUCA world?