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Leading in a VUCA world

In a recent ‘Preparing for Brexit’ workshop, we were discussing how volatile and ambiguous the business landscape is going to be over the coming months. It got me thinking about the impact on business leaders as they adapt to changing circumstances and emerging government decisions, over which they have no control, whilst feeling the pressure to make critical decisions about their business.

The term VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) comes from the military, often used to describe conflict hot spots around the world, and is also a perfect description of the business environment, especially now.

Depending on a leaders’ own tolerance for making decisions in the face of uncertainty, this could be a very unsettling time. If you are the type of leader who, when faced with an important decision, prefers to take their time, gather all the facts and information, lock yourself away in a darkened room, weigh your options, and then decide, you are facing an uncomfortable few months.

As the countdown to the UK’s departure from the EU ticks down, there are two potential scenarios: ‘deal or no deal’. With the prospect of a ‘no deal’ scenario becoming increasingly possible, VUCA will become the new norm. Leaders not only have to prepare their business for either outcome, and do scenario planning for each, but they also have to prepare themselves mentally for the discomfort they will inevitably face.

How can leaders personally prepare for VUCA?

The first step is accepting that you are dealing with ambiguity, so brace yourself.

Next, when faced with big decisions, take a collaborative approach. Involve your team. Many heads debating options will take the pressure off you, and will result in a better decision. Engaging your people will also help them to stay informed..

Take a systemic approach. When accessing trade-offs and risks, look at the entire system your business operates in, and consider dependencies. Again, having a cross-functional team as part of the debate will increase your chances that all parts of the system are considered.

Managing competing priorities is also part of the complexity in a VUCA world, so being crystal clear on your top strategic priorities will help you make important decisions when inevitable trade-offs are required.

Remain flexible. Give yourself credit for making the best possible decision you can with the information at hand. As new information emerges, plans will have to change. That does not mean your decisions were wrong, so let go.

Personal resilience is always an important leadership trait. Taking care of yourself, both mentally and physically, puts you in the best position to deal with all that is coming at you and your business. A positive outlook, where you are looking for new opportunities in the midst of all this change, will also help you to remain resilient.

We have tools available to help you with your Brexit preparation. We recommend preparing for the ‘no deal’ outcome as it involves the most change, and will reassure you that you have done all you can to minimise any potential risks and seize any opportunities in this VUCA world.