Leading in the V.U.C.A. Environment—What’s Changed?

social network, communication in the global computer networks

How many times have you heard our environment has changed—it’s now more volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) today than every before?

I’m not 100% convinced this is true. Go back just in American history. Did George Washington live in uncertain times? Did Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, or LBJ live in uncertain, complex, volatile, and unpredictable times?

When we say MORE complex, how is more defined? I’m not sure it’s more volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. It’s simply moving faster with access to much more data.

With this increase in speed and data, have the leadership skills required changed? Some say we must be more agile, anticipatory, and adaptive in our thinking, but is that really different for leaders. That’s always been our call.

Technology and Leadership

My life long friend, Joe, owned a Commodore 64 and was a true early adopter of the personal computer. Ponder 1982 (if you can). These early computers began to transform the way we lived. Many thought the PC was simply a fad. Personally, I wasn’t sure, but computers looked great in movies. If Matthew Broderick’s Ferris Bueller could change grades with with a PC and almost start a thermonuclear exchange in Wargames, computers deserved deeper investigation.

A decade later, cellular phones began appearing giving us mobility while the internet opened a new world of connectivity and data to all on PCs.

Fast forward another decade and digital formatting changed the way we listened to music, watched videos, and took pictures, and in 2004 Facebook mainstreamed social media as the world began to connect as never before and at an even faster pace.

29 June 2007, the iPhone hit the market and smart phones put the world in our hands and today these tiny computers go everywhere we go.

Think about it. In a short 100 years, telephones connected homes, and radios and television connected people with entertainment and news. Then PCs connected our homes to work, cellular phones connected me to you, the internet connected us to massive amounts of information, digital formatting connected us to massive amounts of entertainment, and social media connected all of us to each other. AND, now a smart device connects all of us to each other, everything, everywhere, all the time.

We built a hyper-connected world that effects everyone—everywhere. If leadership is about influence, this impacts how we influence.

We now lead in a hyperconnected world made of a complex weave of people, machines, and technology with remarkable reach and magnitude—that’s the change.

Access to data, relationships, and change

The culture in which we lead has morphed, and simply by having access there is a new set of rules being defined transforming the nature and very physiology of influence and relationships.

The need and desire for people to connect has not changed, but we can connect to more people faster. As leaders, this effects how we connect and communicate but not really how we lead.

The speed and the amount of data we are exposed to is increasing, but leaders still must lead and influence. Social media, email, and communications technology have raised person-to-person connections to a previously unimagined high, but the methods of connection may also change. For example, do we need to be physically present to make meaningful connections?

Whether we answer yes or no, in this new hyperconnected world is physical presence increasingly or decreasingly important and/or relevant?

The basic premises of leadership remain—the best leaders offer support and challenge to all we influence. The increased speed, connectivity, and data are simply opportunities to expand our support, our challenge, and our influence through this intelligent, infinitely scalable, always available, real-time collection of technology, content, and human resources.

The Speed of Leadership Development

The majority of leaders are developed from on-the-job experiences, training, coaching, and mentoring. All solid, but let’s leverage the speed of change and the amount of data, and use this to develop more leaders more quickly. We have always needed agile, anticipatory, and adaptive leaders, so let’s use the speed and strength of this era to accelerate the development of these traits. People are absorbing information at a greater velocity – our understanding of what it means to be a leader in this new, networked society has not kept pace.

This nexus of leadership and technology brings us five things in enhancing leadership development:

a) Flexibility or the ability to build relationship and influence without restriction    across physical and even temporal space reaching more people quicker.

b) Speed in both the physical and cognitive arenas. Physical speed is enhanced by technology along with the cognitive ability to process, absorb information, and develop decisions.

c) Collaboration in awareness and tracking and planning functions, while helping a network of leaders solve problems with the best and most current thinking available. Collaboration is the new competition, and the more valuable
our contributions are, the greater our influence will be.

d) Balance in manipulating data and information so that as leaders we retain the ability to act. The most influential leaders are increasingly harnessing new technology to share ideas, get real-time feedback, and build knowledge for those we influence.

e) Strength to be effective as leaders. We must be resilient, augmenting our leadership ability by teaming to enhance critical thinking, adaptive behavior, innovation, and collaboration skills. Teaming and information sharing with people and organizations in their problem-solving network is our strength in
this hyperconnected world.

It’s not VUCA—it’s a new flexibility, speed, collaboration, balance, and strength in how we lead. It is an increase in speed and access to data or connectivity.   As leaders, let’s use this era—this revolution to accelerate support, challenge, and influence those we lead while developing agile, anticipatory, and adaptive leaders to meet the challenges of tomorrow.

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