VUCA. Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity.

Post date: Jan 10, 2017 8:20:9 PM


Created in the 1990’s, this military-derived acronym has been adopted by business leaders to describe the increasingly unstable and rapidly changing business world that has become our “new normal.” The question before us is how can we as leaders be successful in this environment.

During Winter Break I had the opportunity to go skiing with my family on Mt. Bachelor. The first day on the mountain there was a blizzard. Very low visibility. Extremely high winds were reported at the summit, and 12 inches of brand new powder snow was beneath our skis. Our three adult kids were thrilled by it all. I however, was not. As I slid down the ramp off the chair into a completely white scene, I took a few turns and was blown down to the ground by a large gust of wind. I had little idea of where I was and where I was going. For me it was the epitome of a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous situation.

I reflected at the end of the day from the comfort of the ski lodge about what I had needed most to be successful. First of all, I wanted a clear vision of where I needed to go. I did not need to see all the way down the mountain, and I did need to see clearly the next step in front of me. Secondly I needed clear communication with my family, my team. I needed to know where they were, and we all needed to know what each other needed to succeed. Next I needed to be able to make continuous shifts in the process and structure to move through the day. How long were we going to ski, which chair lifts were we going to use, when would we meet for lunch etc.? I needed to be flexible, adaptive and quick in my decision making. And lastly I needed encouragement. I simply needed someone to tell me it would be ok and I had the skills to do it.

When I reflected on what I needed to move through the VUCA situation on the mountain, it strikes me as similar to what leaders need to be providing for their teams in the work environment. Vision – even if its short term clarity because we do not have the capacity to know the long view. Adaptive, quick, communication and decision making. Flexible strategies, and continuous encouragement of our people.

The new VUCA business environment is stretching even the most capable leaders who find their skills growing obsolete as quickly as their organizations change in this volatile, unpredictable time. As I navigated the mountain from a place of “visual blindness” and ever changing conditions, so do we as leaders need to navigate our organizations with increased agility and adaptability. When we are adaptive, we can learn better and faster thereby setting ourselves and organizations up for success in the new VUCA world.


What impact is the VUCA world having you on? On your organization?

How are you currently managing the VUCA environment?

To what extent are you interested in learning how to be more adaptive and flexible?

What would you need to give up and or change to increase your leadership agility?