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Leadership Development

How Leaders Can Thrive in a VUCA Environment

By ROHEI
13 July 2021

In a Nutshell

  • To be successful in a VUCA environment, leaders not only have to be able to personally adapt, they also need to learn how to lead their people through change effectively.
  • Leaders that can instil purpose and vision are able to build resilience in their teams amidst uncertainty and difficulty.
  • A people-first approach to leadership is key to building a high performance and innovative culture where employees are engaged.

 

VUCA describes the situation of uncertainty and change that has become the norm for most industries and markets today. The term VUCA stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. Though the VUCA concept has existed for many years, the past 12 months have thrown organisations into unprecedented conditions. This has created both challenges as well as opportunities at every level.

Read our previous article on Leadership Competencies that Matter Most in a VUCA World published in 2018 

One thing that has become even clearer is that people are irreplaceable. They are the innovators, creators and problem solvers. Therefore, to be successful in a world of rapid change and uncertainty, leaders not only have to be able to personally adapt. They also need to learn how to lead their people through change effectively. This is where the relational competencies of leaders come into play. A Relational Leader is a leader that adopts a people-first approach within their teams and organizations. It comes from the realisation that people have the greatest value in an organisation.

 

To be successful in a world of rapid change and uncertainty, leaders not only have to be able to personally adapt. They also need to learn how to lead their people through change effectively.

 

Even before the pandemic, traditional command and control leadership styles were already becoming increasingly ineffective. In today’s new world of work, this shift has been accelerated. Today, leading with relational competence is a must-have for every leader.

 

“Relational skills are the most important abilities in leadership.”
― John C. Maxwell

 

This is why behind most high-performing teams is a people-focused leader that is trusted. Investing in relationships can yield the greatest ROI for a manager.

As you take on a people-focused approach to leading through the pandemic and into uncharted territory, here are a couple of things to always keep in mind:

 

Purpose fosters resilience

An HBR article stated: “When employees connect the impact of their work back to the real world, daily tasks, which once seemed tedious, gain meaning.” The reverse is true. When employees can’t connect their work to a purpose they resonate with, it impacts their resilience to continue on with their difficult tasks and their work.

 

When employees can’t connect their work to a purpose they resonate with, it impacts their resilience to continue on with their difficult tasks and their work.

 

A Gallup report stated that 51% of employees have indicated to be disengaged in their jobs and feel disconnected from the larger mission of their company. Without the presence of purposeful leadership, teams and organisations can derail from the mission, especially with a market environment that is so dynamic.

With many businesses having to work hard to just survive, and people grappling with their wellbeing and burn-out, the ability of the leader to provide a clear vision and direction to the team to create a sense of purpose is paramount. This sense of meaning during challenging situations is the separating factor between companies that thrive and those that survive.

In the Courageous Leadership livestream series, Calvin Yeo, ROHEI’s Principal Consultant elaborated on this when he was asked how leaders can maintain high morale in difficult situations. He called it “conviction”. Calvin shared, “The team must be clear about why we are doing what we are doing, and what it is that we are persevering for. What is it that we are going through this tough time in order to come out stronger for? When there's clarity about the purpose for why we're doing what we're doing, there is a morale that comes around. There's a fire that's lit from within individuals.”

 

“When there's clarity about the purpose for why we're doing what we're doing, there is a morale that comes around. There's a fire that's lit from within individuals.” — Calvin Yeo

 

Across the board, leaders that have stewarded their teams well have been those that led with a clear sense of purpose. Remember that purpose and vision will leak. Just because it was clearly communicated once, does not mean it sticks. People tend to forget. To lead with purpose, leaders need to take deliberate steps to communicate and help the team realise the deeper meaning of their work and the role that they have to play.

When a team finds a greater sense of meaning in their work and the impact that it creates, it causes them to look beyond the ambiguity and difficulty, and still push forward with passion.

 

When a team finds a greater sense of meaning in their work and the impact that it creates, it causes them to look beyond the ambiguity and difficulty, and still push forward with passion.

 

Care and humility unlocks creativity and innovation

The Stories of Hope video, produced in the peak of the crisis, showcases how leaders who cared for people first allowed them to not only withstand the crisis but thrive.
CEO of NVPC, Melissa Kew said “Not being able to interact with my team in the normal ways we usually do, prompted us to reflect on how well we do know the people I work with. The adaptation and innovation that came from this process were incredible.” Deliberate focus on connecting with people created an environment where innovation could take place for the organisation to find new ways of moving forward.

 

Deliberate focus on connecting with people created an environment where innovation could take place.

 

Dr. Jacqueline Chung, academic director of St. James Preschool services adopted a “care call” approach to ensure that their staff received emotional support.  When the team has emotional safety knowing they are cared for, their ability to take on challenging situations and pull together increases. “It caused our team to see challenges as possibilities,” she said.

Watch the video highlights in the Stories of Hope here.

 

“It caused our team to see challenges as possibilities.” — Dr. Jacqeline Chung
 

 

With changing conditions and the increase in personal challenges that many employees are facing, managers feel the pressure that they must provide answers and be able to deal with these situations. Humility in action requires leaders to be empathetic towards employees and the challenges they are experiencing, even though they are unable to provide an answer. It is a humbling process for a leader to show his team that he does not have all the answers but this is where trust is built. When a leader shows vulnerability, it invites the team to be open. Honest communication lines open up and problem-solving takes on a participatory approach rather than relying only on the strength of the leader.

 

Humility in action requires leaders to be empathetic towards employees and the challenges they are experiencing, even though they are unable to provide an answer.

 

A people-first approach in leadership is a tried and tested perspective of leadership that can be applied across industries, cultures and personality types. Relational and purposeful leaders can consistently produce the best results in their team and in reaching goals while facing VUCA conditions.

 

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