The Way Leaders Think Influences Success in the VUCA World

Leaders have to create an environment that unleashes the full potential of their teams. Photo: Canva Pro

Over the decades, the only certainty that remains unchanged is the existence of increasing uncertainty in our everyday lives. Be it for businesses or consumers, the changing market landscapes experienced in business, learning and leadership can be defined by VUCA — Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity. These four terms, while seemingly synonymous, have their differences and warrant specific actions from leaders. To cope with this, my personal take is for business leaders to start by first reviewing their mindsets, so that they can drive desired actions. Our current beliefs or worldviews shape our eventual actions and behaviours. To illustrate, if our staff believes that there is no psychological safety in our organisation, they are less likely to speak up, debate ideas, be innovative or admit their shortfalls; all of these we know now, are critical to navigating in a VUCA world. What are some of the key mindsets leaders should be aware of to build a conducive environment for innovation?

Letting go of past glories and seeking relevance in a world that is rapidly changing

Having a growth mindset means recognising that there are always possibilities in and through change. Despite the havoc the COVID-19 pandemic has caused, it has also opened a wealth of opportunities for innovation and pushed for greater automation. Along with the changes in the way people work, it is the call for leaders to unleash the full potential of teams. To achieve this, it is necessary to constantly do check-ins with your team to minimise doubt, and maximise creative solutioning and productivity. Front-loading of knowledge is not going to work. We need to stay relevant in such changing times by being aware of both local and global trends, and keep our eyes and ears peeled to what is happening on the ground. We should continuously learn, sense-make, apply and iterate to achieve the best outcomes.

In order to leverage and empower team members, leaders need to frame and constantly review the challenges ahead. Previous successes do not guarantee future results and our experience can be a double-edged sword. When used appropriately, it has the propensity to help us make sense of ever-changing developments and new knowledge. On the contrary, if we are so full of ourselves, we may end up not listening to others or become totally blind to new developments around us. Our experience should enable us to pick our battles wisely and stop when it no longer makes sense to continue.

The “right team” knows best in a VUCA world

When leaders build their teams well, team members are not hesitant to engage in positive debate on ideas and decisions. Photo: Canva Pro

It is often when there is an unknown element that fear is instilled in us, simply because what we do not know scares us and depletes our confidence. Can we remove this fear? Who knows best about what lies ahead?

The sooner we choose to believe that no one person knows best, the more likely we are to succeed. It means that people do not only look to the organisation’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) or senior management to navigate the unknown. Everyone can play a role, and, in many situations, the people at the frontline know better simply because they are first to experience the changes in the terrain.

The leader’s role then moves away from what is traditionally expected: from a domain expert to that of a facilitator and team builder. Leaders now create the conditions for the safe exchange of perspectives and debating of ideas, hence bolstering a culture of innovation. This requires letting go of personal egos, and demonstrating humility and openness.