For Better or For Worse: Embracing VUCA

As the world of business continues to evolve and the workforce continues to shift to the next generation, the need for transformational and servant leaders has become more evident. The acronym VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous), coined by the U.S. Army War College, captures the essence of the environments that many professionals operate within today. Whether you are an entrepreneur, in the corporate world or a civil servant in our government workforce, VUCA settings are almost impossible to avoid. We can’t wish this phenomenon away but embracing it as the norm should warrant some urgency around developing ways to equip professionals to excel despite the challenges.

I have had the privilege of working with individuals in developmental programs, management training sessions and as a manager. While there is consistently a willingness to take action on their part, there is often a follow-up along the lines of, “Just tell me what to do,” or “What is the standard operating procedure (SOP) for that?” Unfortunately, the VUCA environment is not often a predictable one that we can develop step-by-step guidance on how to navigate through.

As leaders, we must cultivate environments that enable our workforce to be more confident to take risks and to think creatively and critically about solving problems. As individuals, we must commit to a process of actualizing our leadership potential. Through my own experience and reflections on my journey, I believe there are five stages that we can build upon towards actualization. I will briefly touch on each of them below:

1. Self-Awareness

2. Sense of Agency

3. Self-Efficacy

4. Self-Definition

5. Leadership/Self-Actualization

Self-Awareness

At any given moment our senses are gathering information about the external world and we process consciously and sub-consciously the impact things are having on us. I believe this external awareness is far more natural than Self-Awareness. Self-Awareness requires much more intentionality and a meaning-making process that not only takes into consideration how the world impacts us, but how we show up in the world. Self-Awareness lays the foundation that you will build from. Understanding your core values, talents, personality traits, interests etc., will help to ensure you are not misaligned as you continue to grow. Knowing these things and how to appropriately leverage them puts you in a better position to make impact in your spaces and not risk becoming disengaged or outright ineffective.

Sense of Agency

Too often we give away the power we possess to make impactful decisions in our lives away to other people, institutions, processes and systems. While these things may speak to established norms and establish order, rarely (if ever) can they accommodate the nuances and complexity that we as human beings present that would maximize your potential. When we give in to these things we relinquish ourselves of responsibility to own our actions and the accountability that comes with them. A sense of agency establishes you as the captain of your ship. You are not a passenger on your own journey.

Self-Efficacy

Having the confidence in yourself and believing you can accomplish the things you set out to do is another critical stage on this journey. I believe Self-Efficacy is cultivated in large part through “knowing.” You have to know who you are. You have to know what talents you possess. You have to know what you can do as a result of your preparation and you have to know that you are in control. Many people fear the unknown but much of what we fear can be demystified by taking action, preparing, self-reflecting and making adjustments as needed.

Self-Definition 

Embracing your unique individuality is important as you put all of these pieces together. Treat your identity as a leader and the process to get there like a work of art. You are a masterpiece. You are not the result of a leadership production assembly line where everyone is the same. As you make meaning of your experiences, education, relationships, etc., be bold and be confident in who you are and how you show up. Your style and approach may not be a great fit for every situation so as you build, be intentional about aligning your skills, interests and values with the work you decide to do.

Leadership (Self) – Actualization

The activation of all of these stages and the application of said things toward our pursuits bring us to a heightened state of awareness, confidence and action that I call Leadership (Self) – Actualization. This state of being all you can be is not void of mistakes or failure but it positions you to be able to navigate a VUCA environment without losing yourself in it.

A VUCA environment doesn’t require one to have all the right answers but it does require bold leaders to be willing to embrace the unknown. It requires these bold leaders to activate their imagination and creativity. It requires clear and effective communication. It requires the cultivation of talent and the building of people. It requires increased collaboration. It requires culture change and flexibility like never before. It does not require a lone leader at the top. It does, however, require each of us to strive towards maximizing our own potential and aligning with the work we were called to do.

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Written by Lamar Sykes

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