Leadership: Navigating a VUCA World - [website] Email Print
Published: 3rd of Feb 2023 by: Debbie Engelbrecht

I have been in the fortunate position of being a facilitator in the leadership development arena for close on two decades now. I clearly recall when the analysts were starting to talk about a VUCA environment and how we need to prepare our leaders for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity.

How it was a concept at the time, where especially the more junior leaders would give me an incredulous stare when I suggested that the way the world was then, would definitely not be the same in two decades time.

Those very same leaders are today chatting to me about how volatile and uncertain the world has become, how complexity in leadership, specifically in the South African context, is exhausting. How ambiguous they find the world and the messages we are all giving and receiving.

The current example in the news is Vodacom; selling as an uncapped data package, a package that is actually capped, granted at a cap that very few users will ever reach, but still capped. In essence they are changing the very meaning of the English language alternatively they are deliberately putting out a message that is deceptive, no matter how they try to spin it nor the reason. And this was a collaborative decision taken by some relatively senior individuals if their ex-CEO is to be quoted.

A second case in point is our beloved Eskom. It has been no secret that Eskom is being mismanaged, but what is becoming evident is to what degree the majority of the stakeholders are playing this game of being present, whilst having no intention at all of carrying through on any of the agreements being made. Granted this is the perception I have formed and I am sure that many South Africans may join me in that perception. I thus speak entirely from the outside even though I like the rest of the country am also in the position of feeling the effects of their failures very deeply.

The uncertainty and complexity that the average middle manager has to navigate to make but one decision and get a supplier to deliver to Eskom is any person's nightmare if those speaking of the Transport, Coal and Procurement syndicates are to be believed. And in what world is a CEO potentially poisoned? Well, a VUCA world. A world in which we speak one thing and do another. A world where nobody can operate in the workplace in a manner that is ethical without putting your very life at risk. Were there any varsity text books that prepared us for this?

Why am I telling you this, as it is most likely that this is not new to you. Simply put, because the very fact that our business environments are changing and have changed has already influenced the messages we put out in our leadership development courses. For example: Years ago without hesitation I would suggest that if you had a senior who you knew to be abusing the petty cash fund, you had a moral and ethical responsibility to report them. Escalate, go above their heads if necessary. Do the right thing!

Today that same response would be longer and more complicated and it speaks to the need for personal and family safety first, then for moral courage and fortitude, it speaks to the practical aspect of possibly having to uproot your entire life if you choose to stand strong. Maybe not exactly for petty cash abuse, but certainly for tender fraud. The need for analytical thinking and improved decision making has always been there, but it truly appears that now more than ever, this has to be high on the list of leadership requirements.

It remains a VUCA world, but I still hold out hope that we as leaders have the ability to navigate our way through it and when we do arrive on the other side of our careers that we can truly look back and be proud of the part we played in shaping a world that is better than when we found it.

© Debbie Engelbrecht 2023
Debbie is the MD at Staff Training, providing soft skills and leadership training for South Africans since 2000. Should you wish for Staff Training to put together an annual training package for you covering aspects of management, wellness and self-mastery, please email info@stafftraining.co.za

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