Leading Well in the Age of VUCA

VUCA is a military acronym that stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. Coined by the US Army College, it was originally used to describe the state of global affairs after the end of the Cold War. Despite its military origins, VUCA is a concept that’s gaining traction in a wide variety of contexts, including the business world.

There can be no doubt that today’s leaders, whether in business, government, or the nonprofit sector, face a multitude of challenges. One of the most difficult to address is the fact that tomorrow’s challenges are increasingly uncertain. This requires an unprecedented degree of adaptability and responsiveness, qualities that require intensive effort to foster and maintain.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these four components and how they might affect leadership decisions in your organization.


Volatility refers to the dynamics of change. Volatile conditions mean that what works today won’t necessarily work tomorrow. Markets can crash overnight, technological innovation can make existing products obsolete, and skills that are in demand today might be useless tomorrow. Moreover, these changes don’t ever occur in predictable patterns that would otherwise allow you to plan for your organization’s future.


The uncertainty of global conditions means that you have to be ready for anything. What you did to solve the problem yesterday can’t be relied upon to solve today’s issues. In this fast-paced environment, game-changers are to be expected.


We live in an age of connectivity. While there are many benefits and opportunities that can arise from our inter-connectedness, the relationships we have on both individual and organizational levels are deeply complex. Even small organizations face unprecedented leadership challenges.


The three factors above, when combined, create a high degree of ambiguity. There are no clear-cut answers, no marked path to tell you the best course of action. Even the most educated and experienced experts can’t always tell you what you should do to solve organizational challenges.

So what can leaders do in such an unpredictable environment to ensure success? A good first step is to separate internal challenges from external ones. While there may not be much you can do about the uncertainty of the world we live in, you can take steps identify potential problems that might arise from within your organization and address them before they inhibit your ability to meet external challenges.

Another step is to assess the adaptive capacity of your organization. How flexible is it? If a crucial aspect your business changed tomorrow, how quickly could your employees cope? How rigid are your organizational hierarchies, and might they become a problem in a crisis?

You don’t have to cope with these issues alone. An executive coach can help you take an inventory of your strengths and weaknesses and identify the factors that you are able to change. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Let’s have a conversation about how VUCA impacts your organization.  I can be reached via my website, on LinkedIn, and on Twitter. Hope to hear from you soon!

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