VUCA and agile in an age of disruption – new terms associated to leadership in a rapidly changing world
As leaders we are constantly facing political, economic, social or environmental challenges and have always focused on reducing the uncertainty and impact on our staff and school communities. However, we now face a new order whereby the impact of those changes is increasingly unpredictable and severe in their impact due to the volatility of the world, especially politically and environmentally. This unpredictable world is often referred to as a VUCA world.
VUCA which is an acronym used by the American Military to describe extreme conditions in Afghanistan and Iraq. It stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous, see below:
There now appears to be a shift by leaders away from reducing any impact towards a focus on actively engaging with uncertainty which requires higher levels of leadership agility.
Global creative change agency Impact offers the following success factors around leading effectively in a VUCA world:
- Always retain a clear vision against which judgements can be made, with agility to flex and respond appropriately to rapidly unfolding situations.
- Provide clear direction and consistent messaging …
- Anticipate risks but don’t invest too much time in long-term strategic plans. Don’t automatically rely on past solutions and instead place increased value on new, temporary solutions, in response to such an unpredictable climate.
- Think big picture. Make decisions based as much on intuition as analysis.
- Capitalise on complexity … be confident that you have the right people in the right place … rapidly break down any challenge into bite size pieces and trust in the specialist expertise and judgement of those around you.
- Be curious. Uncertain times bring opportunities for bold moves. Seize the chance to innovate.
- Encourage networks rather than hierarchies – as we reach new levels of interconnection and interdependency collaboration yields more than competition.
- Leverage diversity … be sure to draw on the multiple points of view and experience they offer. Doing so will help you expect the unexpected.
- Provide strategic direction, whilst allowing people the freedom they need to innovate ...
- Get used to being uncomfortable. Resist the temptation to cling on to outdated, inadequate processes and behaviours. Take leaps of faith and enjoy the adventure.
By employing the above features of leadership they believe you will have sufficient agility, dynamism and responsiveness to navigate through the VUCA landscape.
Agility, being agile, what does that actually mean/look like in leadership?
Research tells us that agile leadership is not just good leadership. It is leadership that supports agile transformation, that is, being agile, and having a mindset that embraces change.
However, Agile leadership is NOT about driving and promoting change, it is about leading by example, actively engaging in your own development and inspiring people through action rather than words.
Agile leaders are humble, empathetic, compassionate, kind and care for their colleagues.
The Agile Business Consortium lists nine principles of agile leadership in an uncertain world and, as school leaders, we already embrace principles such as building a shared common understanding and purpose in our schools. However, they also include the following interesting aspects:
· ensuring quality multi-angled thinking time and focusing on the highest priorities
· recognising that emotion is an important part of the human experience and when individuals work with their emotions, they achieve more of their potential
· empowering staff is a necessary skill
· recognising that forgiveness, positivity, generosity and gratitude are important parts of a healthy working environment.
AND, most importantly,
· recognising that leadership lives everywhere in the organisation
· being open to the notion that great ideas can come from anywhere in the organisation
Michael J Barry captures agile leadership as follows:
How agile is your leadership?
Are you ready to lead in a VUCA world?