IT’S A VUCA WORLD…New Leadership Skills Required

February 18, 2013 § Leave a comment

Over two years ago, I was attending one of our quarterly Alliance of CEO’s keynote speeches (I’ve been a Director/Moderator of Group 307 since 2007).   The speaker was Bob Johansen and he had just published a new book called Leaders Make the Future: 10 New Leadership Skills For An Uncertain World.  One of his premises was the concept of the new VUCA world we are all living in.   I began taking furious notes on my notepad.  I recently dug out these notes and it’s time to transcribe them here.

Bob argued we are in a time of disruptive leadership change. In a VUCA world—one characterized by Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity—traditional leadership skills won’t be enough.

  • V = Volatility. The nature and dynamics of change, and the nature and speed of change forces and change catalysts.
  • U = Uncertainty. The lack of predictability, the prospects for surprise, and the sense of awareness and understanding of issues and events.
  • C = Complexity. The multiplex of forces, the confounding of issues and the chaos and confusion that surround an organization.
  • A = Ambiguity. The haziness of reality, the potential for misreads, and the mixed meanings of conditions; cause-and-effect confusion.

The forward to the book gives a perfect flavor of the read:

Watching the Arab Spring unfold of late in the Middle East reminds us how prescient Bob’s work is in assessing the dynamics of our VUCA World. He foresaw the rising influence of what Howard Rheingold first called “smart-mob organizing,” through which social networks are used creatively and purposely to fuel change— foretelling events that unfolded in Tunisia, Egypt, and across the region. Frantic attempts by failing governments to quash social media interaction highlighted their hostility toward another emerging trend identified by Bob: “quiet transparency.” The complete absence of that trait among many Arab leaders, from Mubarak to Gaddafi, factored crucially into their downfalls. The resulting new and highly uncertain era, not only in the Middle East but around the world, demands yet another skill highlighted by Bob—“ commons creating,” or the ability to develop shared assets, requiring collaborative leadership at all levels of the government, business, and social sectors.  John R. Ryan, President and CEO, Center for Creative Leadership

Bob’s own introduction to his 2nd Edition is just as compelling for anyone engaged in this new VUCA world:

We are now in the midst of a threshold decade: our natural, business, organizational, and social systems will reach tipping points of extreme challenge, and some of those systems are likely to break. However, such disruption can spark new opportunities.

Fortunately, virtual leadership tools in the emerging world of cloud computing are making new strategies for smart-mob organizing possible just at the time when it is becoming most necessary to work together in new ways and at great distances. I believe that the more connected we are, the safer, freer, and more powerful we will be. But there will be frightening downsides: the more connected we are, the more dangerous it will become. Leaders will need to make new links and organize people for action— yet also protect against dangerous hyperconnectivity like we see in global financial spasms. It is good news that we are more connected than ever before, but leaders must now learn to lead in ways that make full use of the new connectivity of cloud-served supercomputing— while minimizing its considerable risks.

A forecast is a story from the future that provokes insight in the present. Nobody can predict the future, but you can make forecasts: plausible, internally consistent, and provocative views of what you think could happen. The best forecasts provoke insight and invoke action. This book uses forecasts to provoke insight about leadership.

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