Leadership in the VUCA world

VUCA is an acronym and stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambivalence. It stands for a state of change and uncertainty that shapes our present and future.

VUCA thus stands for the dynamics in digital and globalized markets and is largely perceived as a threat if we leave employees alone with it. It means constant change and unrest. Employees and also managers in companies react to the VUKA phenomenon with various behaviors:

  • Change fatigue: Employees who are constantly confronted with change exhibit behaviors such as lethargy, fatalism, or even cynicism.
  • Change ignorance: Attempts are made to simply sit out innovations, according to the maxim: "If I just move slowly enough, this wave too will pass without me having to change anything."
  • Active resistance: By clinging to outdated achievements and resolutions, by endless discussions, mood-mongering and denial, attempts are made to maintain the status quo.

In today's VUCA world, neither leadership nor strategies in organizations are spared. Experiences, beliefs and paradigms are put to the test, as there is no longer one way or one leadership tool. Individuality replaces standard.

But what does this mean for us as people, managers and employees? How do we deal with this situation, how do we find our way around it, how do we remain mindful, motivated, focused and sustainably healthy.

As a leader, you decide quite significantly on the framework conditions that enable your organization to operate. The increase in volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity requires you and your company to align yourself differently and to ensure good results with new leadership behavior under changed conditions. The VUKA world challenges you to find your own way, to understand psycho-logic and to develop empathic behavior - or in short: to engage more with people and their needs. Meaning and purpose move to the center of entrepreneurial action.

The following key principles of leadership are characteristic of this:

  • Goal orientation: Where do we want to go and why?
  • High value orientation: Meaningful for customers, companies and employees
  • Customer centricity: acting in the interests of the customer
  • Transparency: knowledge is the only raw material that increases when shared
  • Autonomy: Teams work in a self-organized and autonomous manner

When leading in the VUCA world in an agile environment, creating a framework in which teams achieve the goals they set together to support the shared vision is a key driver of agile transformation in the company.

Agile leadership as a change in behavior brings about a permanent and rapid adaptation to the VUCA world. While "Change Management" is a rather slow sequence of measures, with Agile Leadership we achieve a process that is associated with very concrete steps:

  1. Develop problem awareness
    Self-analysis, employee survey: How do you want to work? What is holding you back? Where are we losing potential? How can I make your work easier?  

  3. Thinking from the customer
    Purpose: Deliver the most value to the customer (Steve Jobs!). Customer survey: What do you need? What service do you want? How can we help you to make your business/your life better? Which of our processes and structures are an obstacle from your point of view?

  5. Strengthen employees
    For employees to contribute more ideas and take responsibility, they need empowerment and leeway. What decisions can they make themselves? How do they strengthen their intrinsic energy for action (motivation)? How do they safeguard - in the face of these massive changes - their needs and values? How do they remain human in a 'soulless' technocracy?

  7. Review management model
    Whether a team can work agilely stands and falls with the leadership. Hierarchical thinking, authoritarian leadership styles and mistrust stifle any initiative. What can agile leadership look like in the corporate context? Are the existing managers capable of it? Do they (already) have the 'soft' factor of relationship management?

  9. Choose agile methods
    Methods must be chosen with customer value, employee empowerment, and leadership model in mind. Not all departments have the same agility needs.

  11. Set up pilot project
    In this pilot project, volunteers (selected according to high desire and high ability) work with agile methods. They get to know a new way of working - and at the same time the management can check the efficiency.

  13. Provide tools and premises
    Digital collaboration and communication tools promote interdisciplinary exchange and idea development.

  15. Further training for managers
    Agile ways of working could threaten the self-image of managers. This makes it all the more important that they develop a supportive attitude. Do they exude credibility, fairness, reliability and predictability (generally: trust)?

  17. Adapt structures
    Approaches to agility can fail if other structures and processes in the company do not fit in. This also includes the remuneration model, appraisal system, career paths, etc.

This requires four competencies in particular:

  • Credible personality (behavior, attitude and values)
  • Communication (language effect, recognizing people and motivation, convincing instead of persuading)
  • Conflict resolution (recognizing conflicts at an early stage, addressing and actively resolving them, courage for transparency and openness, dispute culture)
  • External and self-leadership (effective self-leadership, mindful external leadership, motivation, enthusiasm, appreciative leadership)