Purpose Driven Leadership in A VUCA World

Terentia Browne

Written by: Terentia Browne

5 minute read

There are two topics that I have become known for talking about in the recent years. One is around understanding my purpose and the second is around the importance of intentionally building our emotional intelligence to help us thrive and not just survive in this VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world.

Before we get to the importance of a purpose driven life, I want to share with you a few thoughts about the VUCA world we find ourselves in. In Deloitte’s “2019 Global Human Capital Trends” survey, 80% of respondents agreed that the 21st century has imposed new requirements on business leaders. Among these respondents, 81% cited the ability to lead through more complexity and ambiguity, followed by leading through influence, managing remotely, managing a workforce that combines humans and machines, and leading more quickly. Each of these requirements reflects elements of why we feel overwhelmed almost on a daily basis. Together, they point to a “VUCA” world that directly challenges the way leaders develop stability and direction for their businesses.

Defining VUCA

Understanding what VUCA is, actually helps our brains to process the changes that are being thrown at us on a daily basis. We are more confident with embracing the change because we have tools to navigate through the unknown. The term VUCA was actually developed by the United States Army college to describe the environment a soldier will experience during times of war. We are now saying that our world has become a war zone which doesn’t come to an end. Soldiers are trained mentally and physically before they are deployed to this war zone. However, no emphasis is placed on preparing our leaders and employees with the right tools to help them successfully navigate through this world.

How do we prepare ourselves to thrive and not just survive in this VUCA world?

It is definitely not a hopeless situation. We have tools that can help us thrive. Since VUCA is dynamic and situational—sometimes things can be fairly clear but then suddenly shift due to outliers, adjacencies, and disruptions. Arguably, leaders today face an extended period of rising VUCA.

The alternate VUCA offers us 4 tools that we can apply on a daily basis to help us build this skillset and most importantly resilience to prepare ourselves.

1/ Counter Volatility with Vision

German philosopher Frederick Nietzsche once said, ‘He who has a why can endure any how.’ Knowing your why is an important first step in figuring out how to achieve the goals that excite you and create a life you enjoy living (versus merely surviving!).

Developing an internal compass with a sense of purpose and a clear set of values that guides your choices and decisions is a cornerstone in dealing with the VUCA world. If you think of the VUCA world as a roller-coaster, there will be ups and there will be downs, however, your internal compass and the vision you have for your life will keep you on track.

Purpose can guide life decisions, influence behaviour, shape goals, offer a sense of direction, and create meaning. For some people, purpose is connected to vocation—meaningful, satisfying work. For others, their purpose lies in their responsibilities to their family or friends. It will serve as your point of reference for all your actions and decisions from this moment on, allowing you to measure your progress and know when you have met your goals.

2/ Meet Uncertainty with Understanding

Pause to listen and look around. This can help you understand and develop new ways of thinking and acting in response to VUCA’s elements. Ask questions to seek understanding. We are overwhelmed when we don’t understand what is going on.

3/ React to Complexity with Clarity

Communicate clearly with your people. In complex situations, clearly expressed communication helps them to understand your team’s or organisation’s direction. Develop teams and promote collaboration. VUCA situations are often too complicated for one person to handle. So, build teams that can work effectively in a fast-paced, unpredictable environment.

4/ Fight Ambiguity with Agility

Promote flexibility, adaptability and agility. Plan ahead, but build in contingency time and be prepared to alter your plans as events unfold. Every failed attempt is a learning curve. Encourage your people to think and work outside of their usual functional areas, to increase their knowledge and experience. Job rotation and cross training can be excellent ways to improve team agility.

Only when you know your ‘why’ will you find the courage to take the risks needed to get ahead, stay motivated when the chips are down, and move your life onto an entirely new, more challenging, and more rewarding trajectory.