The acronym V.U.C.A. came into play by the Army War College in 1987 to describe the post-Cold War Era we lived in. It has since been used regularly by leaders across various industries to describe the environment we lead in - Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous.
Let’s unpack this:
Volatile: We live in an age marked by instability, disruption, and turbulence where anything can change or erupt significantly without notice. And this has been growing in magnitude and impact.
Uncertain: We could say that uncertainty is the new certainty. Our times are unpredictable, and nothing is a given anymore (except uncertainty). We have an increasing amount of limited visibility as we look further into our future.
Complex: Life is not that simple anymore. Whatever the industry is, multiple and multi-faceted factors and forces are at work, making things potentially chaotic, convoluted, overwhelming, and even feel contradictory.
Ambiguous: Things are getting murkier, more obscure, and harder to comprehend. Some of the categories of the past no longer work, and current trends often stop trending, no longer having the power to shape or inform our future as they did in the past.
How shall we lead in these uncharted terrains, as one put it, where V.U.C.A. emotions are generated and can rule supreme: Vulnerability, Uncomfortability, Confusion, and Anxiety?
In 2007, Dr. Bob Johansen of the Insitute For the Future developed a V.U.C.A. Prime leadership response: Vision, Understanding, Clarity, and Agility. These are the elements for leading in these disruptive and destabilizing times where we can leverage the dangers and threats of a turbulent world into advantages and opportunities for an adventure, perhaps the like we have yet to experience. Seasons of significant change and disruption can be the seedbed for renewal and transformation, where the soil of culture and society is being tilled for new growth and vitality.
Vision: Call it your Northstar, Beyond-the-Horizon-Destination, or your God-sized Dream; Vision is a vivid and imaginative picture of where you are going that provides meaning, generates energy, catalyzes both action and sacrifice, and help solves a challenging problem. It provides the motivation and facilitates the mobilization necessary to move people forward, especially in disruptive times. Your vision anchors you into your future, stabilizing you in a volatile present. Goals, outcomes, milestones, targets, and big rocks are all sub-sets of vision and part of the process of reaching it. We are talking about an inspiring, contagious, clear, contextual, and more of an ‘over-arching’ portrait that transports people forward and transforms them simultaneously. What is your current vision? Is it serving you well, or does it need any improvement?
Understanding: In uncertain times, people do not need certainty; they need the understanding to help them navigate the terrain. Remaining faithful to who you are as a person and as an organization when life comes at you in unpredictable ways is essential to reaching the vision. There are two key ways to provide understanding:
1) Provide Empathy. Before you can lead people to where they need to go, you need to meet them where they are at; especially if they are experiencing doubt, fear, anxiety, and confusion. Providing a listening ear that instills validation and encouragement will be critical in that place - being a “non-anxious presence” for your team.
2) Reinforce Values. Values are core convictions that drive attitudes and behaviors. If vision is the compass of an organization, values are its keel - providing stability amid stormy waters. Remaining true to one’s calling, character, and identity is essential. Are your values explicit and both championed and modeled regularly?
Clarity: During seasons of complexity, people need clarity. If vision is about where we are going, understanding is about who we are and why we do things, clarity is about what we do. When life gets convoluted, people need clarity about what needs to be done and how their role contributes to the mission. Do people in the organization know precisely what they need to do and when? Are responsibilities clearly delineated, aligned, and prioritized? Are systems in place for people to communicate freely, regularly, and consistently with one another, where clarifying questions can be asked without fear of reprimand?
Agility: The new How is about innovation, experimentation, adaptability, and flexibility in a spirit of collaboration. This involves a shift from a centralized form of organization to a decentralized and distributed one, where people on the frontlines are authorized and commissioned to improvise and reimagine as needed to accomplish the mission without violating core values. What changes is not your vision or values (they can be improved, revised, and edited) but your strategy, structures, systems, and tactics - they should never be set in stone or cement! Does your team feel empowered to act this way?
At Chemistry Staffing, we recognize that we live in a V.U.C.A. world that necessitates a V.U.C.A. Prime leadership response. Whether it is related to matters of staffing, strategy, or systems/structures, we want to provide both support and solutions as you work through challenging issues. Our highly experienced team of pastors and ministry leaders are here to serve you as you seek to lead well in these uncharted and disruptive times.
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