This content is made possible by our sponsors. Submit your expert blog here.

Leading in a VUCA world

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, new to leadership or a seasoned manager, many express that they didn’t receive sufficient leadership training when they stepped, leapt or were thrust into their current role. Set aside the dynamics inherent in our current global environment, leaders find themselves tasked daily with shouldering the bulk of how decisions are made as well as directing how they are executed.

What is VUCA?

Now, more than ever before, we’re faced with unprecedented levels of VUCA; an artificial word that refers to volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. This term first surfaced after the Cold War in 1987 by students at the U.S. Army War College who coined the acronym in order to describe the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity of the world at the time.

Let’s briefly breakdown these four elements:

  • Volatility refers to the speed of change;
  • Uncertainty refers to the degree that one can predict the future. The greater the uncertainty, the more difficult it is to understand what’s going on and predict what lies ahead;
  • Complexity refers to the number of factors that need to be considered along with the variety of them as well as their relationship or interconnections;
  • Ambiguity refers to a lack of clarity when trying to interpret a situation, problem or approach.

A mindset shift

There is no current rulebook that gives leaders a step-by-step approach needed to thrive under VUCA conditions. Void of a VUCA panacea, what are leaders to do?

For the VUCA savvy, it comes down to finding ways to effectively grasp, anticipate and deal with what’s happening in the world.

This capacity requires a shift in mindset where leaders don’t need to feel they have all the answers, but can lead through their own vulnerability and help their team connect to meaning, purpose and needs so people can develop their own methods for fostering greater resiliency.

Post-heroic leadership

The Irish economic and social philosopher Charles Handy said, “Whereas the heroic manager of the past knew all, could do all, and could solve every problem, the post-heroic manager asks how every problem can be solved in a way that develops other people’s capacity to handle it.”

Operating in an uncontrollable environment permeated by disruption, turbulence and flux demands a higher importance be placed on trust-building and agile problem solving skills.

Building trust

Whether you’re still working remotely or are back in the workplace, building trust is a linchpin to combatting chaos and distress. Trust-building starts with a leader’s ability to listen, connect, and cultivate empathy with people.

Here’s how empathy shows up:

  • You see and appreciate things from different perspectives;
  • You anticipate reactions from diverse groups and focus on a sense of inclusion;
  • You create a safe space for owning up to mistakes and methods for deepening self awareness.

When empathy and communication are strong, they fuel an environment for employees to be equipped to bring forward new ideas and offer up problem-solving suggestions that may have appeared unorthodox in a pre-VUCA time. The greater their confidence and ability to operate with agility during these times, the more they will be able to build on small successes and foster greater resiliency.

Leadership has never been easy. These days, it also has never been more important. Leading in a VUCA world is all about taking a different approach to how one shows up as a leader. Getting it right doesn’t mean being the hero or being expected to have it all figured out. It starts with empathy, self compassion and walking the talk with one’s own self care. It also means allowing for trial and error, listening for understanding, taking time to reflect and celebrating – even in the smallest way – what you’ve accomplished.

To learn more about ways to lead in a VUCA world, please email for a free leadership assessment.

By Susan Cranston, BA, CEBS, ACC, Certified Leadership Coach & Small Business Consultant.

With more than 20 years of corporate leadership experience in HR, group benefits and marketing, Susan leverages her coaching and consulting skills to help clients identify goals and harness methods for attaining their professional potential. Susan is a certified evidence-based coach, published author and former television and radio talk show host. See