As organizational and operational environments become more complex and ambiguous, the characteristics of effective leadership must also evolve.
The Pentagon has an acronym to describe the environment they now believe they operate in: VUCA. It stands for volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. Interestingly, VUCA does not just apply to a combat or even solely a military environment. The Pentagon uses it to apply to the broader world and it certainly applies to the world that civilian organizations operate in as well.
Although some organizational environments may be more volatile or ambiguous than others, VUCA is growing in all environments.
This reality has significant implications for managers and leaders today. For decades, a fairly common set of skills and knowledge served most managers in most situations. It was expected that managers have reasonable financial acumen, be able to manage people who reported to them, make good, data-based decisions, and achieve results, whatever those were. The notion that leaders would need to be able to manage people and organizations through highly turbulent environments, be comfortable with ambiguity (and make material decisions in the absence of compelling data), empower even “low” level managers and employees to make their own decisions, focus on organizational health, and keep learning would have been preposterous even ten or 15 years ago. However, the need to effectively lead in a VUCA environment is now only a question of severity on a VUCA spectrum.
In fact, it is likely that it is no longer possible to rise to or maintain longevity in senior management positions without the leadership profile that Barret C. Brown refers to in the The Future of Leadership for Conscious Capitalism.
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