Complexity - what it means for leadership Email Print
Published: 8th of Mar 2018 by: Debbie

This is the third of 4 blogs where we will 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 recognized that leaders in 2018 need to be VUCA ready, but what does the term complexity mean in the workplace? What is it that we need to get ready for?

Firstly let's understand the dictionary definition:
Complexity (noun) - the state of being intricate or complicated. Synonyms: twists, entanglement, problem

If thus we need to prepare for complexity it will mean that:
- Leaders anticipate the law of unintended consequences.
- Leaders are risk aware and have mitigation actions in place.
- Leaders are open to collaboration to understand the root cause of problems.
- There is always scope for change in any project as we adapt to the complexities thereof.
- Leaders recognize the impact of complexity on teams, clients and organisations.
- Leaders strive to create more elegant and simple solutions using the data at their disposal.
- Leaders truly understand what they are seeing when faced with masses of data.

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

We return to the political landscape and the complexity of leadership facing Cyril Ramaphosa in the pre-election year, where he needs to balance the need for a possible coalition with the EFF with the need for an improved national economy, all the while doing so in a divided party where not all his ministers are on board with the same agenda.

The current Western Cape drought and pending expanded national water shortage will certainly play a role in the future of business in SA.

The current state of public transport in SA continues to be a problem and balancing the need for organizational requirements with a late coming workforce is surely one of the biggest headaches we face especially in production.

The bill of expropriation of land without compensation brings a minefield of complexity as we have banks, landowners, farmers, disenfranchised citizens and politicians all trying to make sense of the realities of this bill. And in this instance that law of unintended consequences brings the Swazi nation into the mix!

All of the above influence our economy and business optimism quite radically, translating to a lack of action as businesses do not know 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 complexity?

- A lack of benchmarks.
- A lack of accurate and relevant data.
- Huge time delays in obtaining data from government as the current divided ministry finds it feet.
- Bureaucracy.
- The heightened levels of crime in the country including cyber-crime.
- The inevitable political "dogfight" that precedes a national election.
- A heightened lack of trust between South Africans based on the pummeling we as citizens have taken from a corrupt government, our history of racial divide and the enormous socio-economic divide.
What are some of the solutions we could be implementing quickly and without too much additional cost?
- Collaborative decision making.
- Housekeeping projects i.e. cleaning up legacy processes and procedures.
- Better stakeholder engagement at the onset of projects.
- A culture where questioning and learning from all is encouraged and rewarded.
- Better time keeping
- More focus on sustainability and growth than on greed.

We cannot stress enough how important it is for us to prepare and encourage our workforce to adapt a culture of inclusivity to help us all through these complex times. No persons input can be summarily dismissed as irrelevant without sufficient probing to understand the root of the concern or idea.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has." ~ Margaret Mead

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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