It’s interesting, with all that is written about leadership, what makes it into the leadership lexicon. Over the past month I have had different leaders use the acronym VUCA in reference to a range of challenges in front of them that they are addressing in their world. The context and its use is interesting because I came across the term a couple of years ago.
The first person I had heard use the acronym VUCA was Kevin Roberts, Worldwide CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi at the time, in his description of what he termed VUCA world. As Kevin explained, its use became known to him when he was called to see a very high ranking military officer in Washington who was seeking Saatchi & Saatchi’s assistance with a challenge.
This senior officer maintained the world was VUCA: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. On reflection Kevin said that he concluded this was also true for today’s businesses. I too am sure most leaders experience this on a daily basis.
However he pointed out that, as leaders, we have a choice; we can hope that we and our organisation can cope and make it through or we can be like the majority of today’s leaders and live and operate in the moment in the “right here and right now”.
Kevin offered us a further choice to lead and live in the VUCA world as described by the officer or live and lead in what Kevin calls a Super VUCA world; Vibrant, Unreal, Crazy and Astounding. His point is it’s where we, as leaders, choose to focus and concentrate our attention. We can focus on how to with deal volatility and the like or we can accept these conditions exist and instead engage with our people and create something that is so vibrant, unreal, crazy and astounding that no-one dreamt it was possible.
It’s unfortunate that the full context of the concept Kevin Roberts shared has been lost as it seems only the negative side of VUCA has made through to the leadership lexicon.
It takes creative leadership to live in a Super VUCA world.
It starts with language and listening, paying attention to what our people are saying in the moment. People within many of the organisations we work with report that when speaking with their leaders and managers the language used demotivates rather motivates and their leaders often appear distracted. Here is just one example which people raise on a regular basis with us: when managers talk they start with this is a problem; using an alternative such as a we have a challenge creates a whole different energy and drive to find a solution. Leaders have to develop the ability to actively listen and use constructive, achievement-focused language.
Ideas are needed to create a Super VUCA world. Creative leaders need to encourage lots of them on a regular basis. As Kevin Roberts pointed out, we have all been guilty of being or allowing ourselves to fall victim to the abominable “no man”, killing off ideas before they had a chance to take hold.
We need to become intolerant of “safe” cultures. Human beings are powered by emotion and it is emotion that inspires action so we need cultures capable of moving at speed and that allow people to innovate, engage, and transform, rather than transact.
Creative leaders make it happen. Today we have an abundance of data and what’s occurring is that leaders are spending up to half their time focused on assessing available data, a third of their time deciding on a course of action, and only about twenty percent of their time focused on executing. It should be the reverse where seventy percent of a leader’s time is spent on execution and the balance on data assessment and decision making. It is momentum that makes things happen and with momentum it’s easier to correct.
Leaders need to provide more than solutions. Value is added through insight, however the real skill leaders need in today’s fast paced business environment is to move beyond insight to foresight in order to be able to anticipate where future value can be added. Think about Apple, Tesla, and Amazon.
Despite the disruptive nature of business, creative leaders are able to create flow by eliminating the unnecessary, inspiring and engaging with their people to take action and deliver.
The final piece for any creative leader is to create other leaders by enabling emerging leaders to set and navigate a clear path to achieve their required goals, access opportunities for continuous learning, and to illuminate areas for developing leaders where they need to improve personally and professionally.
As Kevin Roberts summed things up – do leaders remain one of the abominable “no men” and continue to limit capacity for innovation, or do they embrace creative leadership principles and enable people create a Super VUCA world.
I thought it valuable to share the context of a VUCA world vs a Super VUCA world, at least as it was explained to me.
Viventé Australia enables leaders and managers to create the conditions that allow their people to do their best work every day thus creating a powerful advantage: the synergy between people, leadership, management, and culture, produces performance that allows your business to achieve its outcomes.