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.
(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?
Join the Conversation
VUCA: What Does This Mean for Future Leaders
LOVED your list of 4 ‘parts’ Jon!
#1 Change a habit or a routine each month. >> This one may have scared me too much even as little as a year ago. (overwhelming) However, I’ve been making so many conscious changes over the course of the last few months, it feels ‘welcome’ to me.
i.e. Quitting coffee back in March. I told myself that I needed to do it and it was only temporary and didn’t need to be forever. Outside of one breakdown to a Starbucks drive-thru for a White Chocolate Mocha VENTI (grins), I’ve been coffee FREE since that time.
I also committed to putting my health and fitness 1st instead of LAST on my list of things to do each day. This has been a HUGE change of habit. The change in priorities. I suppose my mom’s cancer diagnoses made it just that much easier to give myself PERMISSION to put my own health first.
I also just finished doing a 30 day challenge on goals and to-do lists this past month. What a HUGE help in doing exactly what you are describing. Some of these things were ‘tips’ I already knew yet presented in a systematic way + special tools to use with my iphone (an app to be more precise) that made it feel easier for me to do. It has totally transformed what I was doing before. I have accomplished more in the last 30 days then I feel like I have all year with this new system!
#3 – Poetry YES!!!! You may have even seen me post this off and on in the past on Twitter. HIGHLY recommend anything by David Whyte. He is not only a poet but the author of The Heart Aroused: Poetry and Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America. I consider it a MUST READ for everyone, especially in America. It’s the kind of book that you can read it once a year and learn something new each time because it changes with you. The seasons we find ourselves in.
Another great post Jon. Thanks for sharing.
You set a great example (again)! Love the way you intentionally identified habits to change and then did it. Many times, we are good at identifying them and not so good on doing them.
Thanks for the recommendation of David Whyte. I will look him up. I have really began to enjoy poetry again and some of the unique slam poetry styles. I have recently dug into Leonard Cohen, too, and his writing is very beautiful.
Thanks so adding many great examples and thoughts. Very grateful!
Leonard Cohen is great as well!
As for DW, here’s a few of my faves to get you started! : )
Revelation Must Be Terrible: http://www.davidwhyte.com/english_rev.html
The Lightest Touch: http://www.davidwhyte.com/english_lightest.html
The Opening of Eyes: http://www.davidwhyte.com/english_opening.html
Working Together: http://www.davidwhyte.com/english_working.html
And TWO of my most FAVORITE poems of his thus far….
Sweet Darkness: http://www.davidwhyte.com/english_sweetdarkness.html
When you have time, I’d love to know what you think of his writing! : )
Thanks for proving all these great poetry references. You setup some weekend reading plus for me and the community here! Well done! Jon
Loved the post and all your wonderful suggestions, Jon!
I would add that to enhance our leadership skills in a VUCA world we might want to introduce storytelling. When we share our stories and lessons learned, good, bad and ugly, we are sharing ourselves with others. By opening ourselves up and exposing our warts we become more authentic and credible. In the end, if leaders can be believable they will be trusted and great accomplishment can happen across generations and the globe.
Thanks for sharing your insightful words!
Terri, Storytelling is a great add! I agree, how we tell our stories and how engage in the story of others will help us develop the right leadership skills in a VUCA world. A wonderful addition as well as a new way to develop our leaders. Thanks so much! Jon
Thanks Jon. Here’s my suggestion for enhancing leadership skills in a VUCA world: do an improv workshop! I (and lots of other improvisation performers around the world) have found that the principles, skills and mindset of improvisation are highly applicable to the task of nurturing leadership, teamwork, trust, communication, creativity, innovation, resilience, nimble responsiveness to change and the unexpected, and the four actions in the VUCA index that are mentioned in the article. Because life and business don’t come with a script.
Love the idea, Kay! An improv workshop would get us out of our normal routines and explore creatively how to work with others and communicate in new ways. These types of activities will help develop our leadership skills in a VUCA world. A great add to new ways to develop our skills! Grateful! Jon
Thank you Jon!
Great read, I like your DURT.
Where do you believe “being a mentor” (or open to mentorship) should fall into your list of being a leader. It seems in our ever changing world that there is a greater focus on self awareness, and less on teaching the new and upcoming. Why have we (or so it appears from afar) gone away from traditional parenthood (where we want more and better for our children) in the Business Place? Should there not be more leaders craving to teach their young followers and offer them better than what they had, much like a parent?
Great points, Matt. Mentoring is essential. In fact, the DDI study highlights the importance of leadership development coming through interaction and mentoring between individuals. This approach is more practical and can great value in developing leaders.
In my opinion, the mentoring needs to be two-way, older to younger and younger to older. We can learn so much from each other’s experiences. I know I have learn a lot from Millennials in my workplace and through other interactions. We need to be open across generations to lift the standard of leadership.
Appreciate your perspective, Matt. Thank you! Jon