Managing in VUCA Environments

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The life of human beings on earth has always been vulnerable, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. The difference between today and earlier times is that we are more aware due to the technical means available which—among other things—place real-time information within our reach. Such circumstances allow us to coin a term -V (Vulnerability) U (Uncertainty) C (Complexity) A (Ambiguity) – for something that is as old as the world, but is novel as we can conceptualize better.

In my book, El idioma de liderazgo, (published by LID and translated as “The Language of Leadership”) I discuss specific factors which enable a manager to become a leader in any environment. Along these lines, here I focus on nine features that whoever currently occupies a position of responsibility must unavoidably tackle, irrespective of the organization type or country.

  1. The skill for Anticipation: change itself has not changed, however the speed at which it happens has. You tag along, you must gaze into the future and propose the right ways forward so we are not left behind out in the cold.
  2. Adaptability: whatever was revolutionary yesterday is routine today and tomorrow it will be simply obsolete. The manager must flee from heeding complacently to yesterday’s way of doing things. Technology and speed call for agility and adaptability.
  3. Learning attitude, to accept that there are rules which were embraced for a long time and no longer serve, most especially in engagement management, and for seeking and maintaining talent.
  4. Thinking. This may seem like a joke, but it isn’t. There are too many managers who charge ahead without enough thought, only to become surprised at the weakness of their positions, simply out of poor grounding in concepts.
  5. Prudence. According to one of its etymologies, prudent is he who is farsighted and therefore in a position to anticipate and provide.
  6. Positive vision of reality, however gruelling it may seem. Optimism oxygenates the mind, while pessimism locks itself into a ridiculous and damaging petulance. Foolishness puts forward nothing; an optimistic realism offers a range of alternatives to explore.
  7. Holistic vision. A small-minded view of reality harms and hinders the pursuit of global solutions in the face of the multiple and rapidly shifting challenges.
  8. Familiarity with history. Too many peddle behaviours and possible outcomes experienced in bygone days as scoops. The planet didn’t start to turn once we saw the light. Understanding how our ancestors faced similar circumstances is obviously instructive.
  9. Modesty. Listening to executives who assure that their organization got the key factors right in a given sector causes a stir of stupor and pity at the foolishness shown by those who speak thus. Just as the universally acclaimed author Cervantes put it, virtue without modesty remains a virtue.

It is a huge mistake to trust messianic managers. When they arise, we must start trembling as well as increase protection of our portfolio itself. A good piece of advice: flee fast from whoever doesn’t have objections!

As Marcos Urarte and the author penning these lines discussed in a seminar where we put forward the key factors for managing in VUCA environments, whoever doesn’t quickly adapt their decision-making may end up paying for it in the silo of out-dated objects. Some who still suffer from laughably pig-headed conceit still remain unaware.

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