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A leadership mind-set for a VUCA world
2:38pm - 23/02/2016

How do you view your role as leader?  A simple question, with profound implications for a leader’s day-to-day conversations and activities.  This question has never been so critical as it is now, in the VUCA environment experienced by many leaders today.   


In a previous blog <link> we looked at the challenge of developing leaders in a VUCA environment, one that is Volatile - Uncertain - Complex – Ambiguous.  In this blog, we’ll offer two analogies for the role of leader that can describe two different outcomes when leading others in a complex and uncertain world.


Oil Tanker, or Armada?


It’s natural for many leaders to see their role like a captain on the bridge of an oil tanker, deciding overall direction, giving orders to the crew, with clear lines of authority and controls for problem solving and escalation.  Seeing their role in a mechanical way like this focuses attention on running a ‘tight ship’ however what happens when the business needs a significant change in direction or there’s a need for quick, responsive decision-making?


Instead, what if the role is seen as leading a collective ‘armada’ of vessels, guiding overall direction and coordinating the activities of interdependent units, teams or individuals?  Creating a capable and agile workforce requires the leader to focus less on their own expertise and ability as they begin to accept they cannot know or control everything.  The leader can instead focus effort on developing the capabilities of others to think for themselves, anticipate and resolve issues as they arise, share knowledge and information, and create greater responsiveness in the face of change.


This analogy reminds us of the need for leaders to shift their perspective from a mechanistic to a systemic focus that helps the business deal with the complex uncertainties of a VUCA environment.  Those familiar with the work of Gareth Morgan may recall how he proposed a range of organisational metaphors that can help leaders look in a different way at the context in which they lead others.  As Gareth himself puts it:


"One of the most basic problems of modern management is that the mechanical way of thinking is so ingrained in our everyday conception of organisations that it is often difficult to organise in any other way"


Reflecting back on the ‘armada’ analogy, the following questions may help you think about your own role as leader:


·        What limits your team’s ability to rapidly innovate as circumstances change?

·        What can you do to enhance information sharing, workflow, and co-operation within the business?

·        In a VUCA environment, what are the main skills and qualities you could demonstrate as a leader that will build greater confidence, capability and autonomy in others?

One potential response to the third question is coaching.  If you're familiar with coaching, you’ll sense the value and contribution of this as a mind-set as well as a set of skills for leaders seeking to develop greater awareness and responsibility in others - an essential capability in a complex and uncertain VUCA world. 


In future blogs we will continue to share further insights into what leaders can do to respond to the complex challenges of modern working life.  If you would like to find out more about our approach to developing leader, team and organisational effectiveness please contact us <link>

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