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Are Your Leadership Skills Ready For VUCA?, by guest writer, trainer and speaker, Tim Durkin

Hurricane season has started, and their volatility is a metaphor for our business climate today. Exceptional times calls for exceptional leadership.

Consider that: Gartner Research estimated that 75% of organizations would experience an event that would threaten that organization’s existence. In a rare occurrence, Gartner was wrong. 100% of companies experienced that event. It was COVID.

Also, in 1958 S&P 500 Index companies survived on average 61 years. By 1980 that number was 25 years and by 2011 it was only 18.

Finally, the A.T. Kearney Turbulence Index estimates that our operating environment is twice as volatile as it was just ten years ago.

Given this reality, today’s leaders can either ignore or ignite. Choosing to ignore will likely be the exit option for your career.

There is an acronym that describes today’s business environment

- VUCA -

If you haven’t heard of it yet, you will. No industry or sector is immune from VUCA which stands for, Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous.

VUCA defined:

Suppose you are USPS, UPS, or FedEx and one of your largest customers (Amazon) starts delivering their small, high-margin packages via their own fleet. Or how would you like to be holding a taxi driving permit for which you paid a fortune, only to see your fare revenue drop 65% in less than two years to on-demand services? What if you own a brick and mortar retail outlet or restaurant during Covid?

VUCA’s origins came from wartime. Lets apply it today to business leadership, for your institution and for your own future. Leadership skills that worked for you in conventional (pre-VUCA) environments will not serve in this new realm. But the good news is if you learn VUCA leadership skills, they will work in conventional environments.

Volatile refers to an environment that is capable of and likely to, change rapidly. It is in a state of dynamic instability.

Uncertain equals a lack of predictability…a business nemesis if there ever was one.

Complexity denotes the factors and underlying causes that are difficult to understand, yet that drive results.

Ambiguous speaks to the lack of clarity or an opacity about current events and their possible impact. As an effective VUCA leader you must cut through the fog.

9 Ways to counter VUCA:

1. Vision: Robert Johansen, author of Leaders Make the Future, suggests that VUCA can be mitigated somewhat by VUCA Prime. Johansen points out that Volatility is countered by Vision. It is an inescapable truth in leadership that confused people do not move. By providing a compelling vision of a desirable future you can more easily get people to sustain momentum during volatile times. The vision you create must be aspirational, energizing and crystal clear.

2. Values: When people are challenged, they default to their core values. Conduct a values inventory within your organization. Ask each person on your staff to list their five main values. Then, ask them to list what they believe to be the company’s five main values. Before you look at theirs, make sure to write down your personal list of five. Compare and contrast the lists. This will give you an idea of how much work needs to be done by you, the leader.

3. Counter uncertainty with Understanding. Think strategically and connect the dots. This is required for to understand current and pending situations. Developing these skills should be a requirement for your senior team.

4. Unity: Silos are suicide in VUCA environments. Seek to have your employees, clients and customers have a seamless experience. Collaboration is key. Develop “wirearchies” i.e. well-connected groups, instead of hierarchies as the driving force in your organization.

5. Complexity can be countered by Clarity. Is the purpose of the work extremely clear? When dealing in VUCA conditions a lack of Clear vision assures collision, due to the fog.

6. Community: Get all- hands on deck and suffer no half-effort during VUCA times. Build teams of people who hold one another accountable and tell the truth or at least don’t lie. Also, make sure everyone hears the truth when it is spoken.

7. Critical thinking: Confirmation bias in leaders is anathema in VUCA and must be negated by and supplanted with, critical thinking.

8. Ambiguity is handled best by agility. Quick assessment and response is vital as situations can move from fuzzy to sharp overnight. “Sense, respond and adapt” should be the mantra of organizations today.

9. Acknowledgement: Frequent and positive feedback to staff is more necessary than ever before. Praise BOTH the performance and the performer. Employees need to feel needed, noticed and known. This requirement goes across all generations but is especially important for the newer ones. Consider it fuel for the future.

Contact Tim Durkin if you would like more information or would like to book him as a speaker.,


Contact me at if you want help with strategies to improve your leadership, and learn how to get along better with those you work with.

Onpoint Leadership now also delivers consulting on all aspects of business.

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