Ambiguity - what it means for leadership Email Print
Published: 17th of May 2018 by: Debbie

This is the fourth blog of the 4-part series, where we unpack the term VUCA in the South African context.

As you may know the term VUCA refers to Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity.

It is by now well recognised that leaders in 2018 need to be VUCA ready, but what does the term ambiguity mean in the workplace?
What is it that we need to get ready for?

Firstly let’s understand the dictionary definition:
Ambiguity (noun)
the quality of being open to more than one interpretation; inexactness

If thus we need to prepare for ambiguity it will mean that:
- Leaders understand the implications of interpretation and perception based on the diverse backgrounds of the workforce
- Leaders understand the current work culture and generational demands of the workforce
- Leaders are open to collaboration to understand the root cause of problems
- Leaders understand how to use data in a way that is meaningful, recognising that statistics can be manipulated to deliver just about any outcome where ethics are not present.

What are some of the most recent and current factors that give rise to ambiguity in the broader South African context?

In the absence of ethical and transparent governance it becomes obvious that unless challenged, leaders of all kinds have the ability to intentionally deceive. With the recent (2018) renewed focus on the rehabilitation of the failing State Owned Enterprises such as SAA and Eskom, it is becoming clear to us that too many people were quiet for far too long creating a culture of followers who ultimately are complicit in wrongdoing by virtue of their silence.

The ambiguity of the message from government regarding the support of start-ups and required job creation vs the bureaucracy and red tape of legalizing such a start-up, or taking on a job such as being an Uber driver.
All of the above influence our economy and business optimism quite radically, translating to a lack of action as businesses and individuals are confused and disheartened not knowing what action to take!

What are some of the existing conditions that are likely to hinder a leader’s ability to adapt to the required challenges of ambiguity?

- A lack of an honest and timeous feedback culture
- Turf guarding and job protection
- Greed

What are some of the solutions we could be implementing quickly and without too much additional cost?

- Collaborative decision making
- More focus on sustainability and growth than on greed
- Encouraging an ethical culture of accountability and acting on it when breached
- Balancing individual, team and organizational needs
- Simplifying and clarifying processes and procedures
- Welcome the impact of diverse views on decision making

“In the face of ambiguity, uncertainty, and conflicting demands, often under great time pressure, leaders must make decisions and take effective actions to assure the survival and success of their organizations. This is how leaders add value to their organizations. They lead them to success by exercising good judgment, by making smart calls when especially difficult and complicated decisions simply must be made, and then ensuring that they are well executed”.
~Warren G. Bennis

© Debbie Engelbrecht

Debbie Engelbrecht is the MD of Staff Training, established in 2001. She is a soft skills facilitator and management coach and strives to enthuse, assist and empower her fellow South Africans wherever she has the skill to do so.

For more information on the www. StaffTraining. leadership training, nationally call 0861 996 660 or enquire on email at

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