Redesigning Leadership for Success in VUCA World

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Supply Chain Leaders

Redesigning Leadership for Success in VUCA World

“Every Shadow has light behind it, Embrace the Shadow and you will get to the light”. Future Readiness with resilience and agility achieved through mindful and skillful evolution will be pivotal for organizations, teams and individuals’ success beyond 2021. Here’s the thought-provoking leadership insights from Akhil Srivastava, Director Planning & Logistics Business Unit, ABInBev on prepping up for the future with utmost ingenuity and innovation. Welcome to 2022 – a year filled with immense possibilities & unlimited avenues to drive indelible growth…

VUCA is an acronym for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity that was coined by the US military and warfare since early 90’s. The word VUCA has gained most mainstream prominence over last two years than it has since its inception. The precise reason being COVID-19 that has been disrupting both Demand and Supply side with regular and unprecedented shocks. Setting up a Chain reaction of Change…

A supply shock reduces the economy’s ability to produce goods and services at given prices. A demand shock, on the other hand, reduces consumers’ ability or willingness to purchases goods and services at given prices. This fundamental impact and 48 months of outliers, depending on sector and industry, have already and most probably will continue to diminish any forecasting tools capability to predict the forecast accurately. With each COVID wave, Demand Sensing and Demand Shaping has hit its Nadir for even the industry leaders leaving firms only trying to gasp and brace for impact on their revenues, profits and most importantly their cultural ethos and people stability. These prominent and sudden shocks have had demonstrated their relevance and need to respond with agility to every business and review the cultural context of leadership.

Winston Churchill was famously quoted as saying, “Difficulties mastered are opportunities won." The time couldn’t have been more perfect than the present times we are living in and going through. While some organizations, teams and individuals might rebuff, joke or simply brush away the power of VUCA, its amply clear that Leadership as usual, including creating a vision, is not sufficient in a VUCA world, which probably might continue to be the norm for a long time ahead. Hence the challenges for businesses today – in driving innovation, evolving organizational structures, business & planning strategy, orchestrating partnerships across ecosystems, and managing (hiring, developing and retaining) talent will require to deploy innovative thinking and disruptive execution levers at neck break speed. The environment is changing rapidly, and any organization that doesn’t change as fast as the environment faces extinction. The sad news is that very few organizations are prepared to operate in this higher level of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity only to realize that they have or will set themselves for failure and probably oblivion.

EMBRACING THE CHANGE

As an advocate of embracing VUCA and its power to disrupt the world, this article attempts to demonstrate how future of businesses and relationships will evolve resourcefulness with two key concepts of mindfulness and skilfulness. These upgrades necessitate for building new muscles (pivoting and adaptability) for emerging leaders in every organization to gear up for further future shocks and prevent the plans from coming to a grinding halt.

Mindfulness refers to the ability of knowing oneself internally with focus, wisdom and balance for restorative adaptability of the mind to drive resilience. Resilience has 7 key attributes of self-awareness, self-compassion, self-emotional regulation, realistic optimism, flexible thinking, self-efficacy, empathy and reaching out for help and support. And with mindfulness, through conscious reflection and assimilation, one can regain inner peace, mental stability, reduce anxiety and negativity. Being mindful is thus living more in the present with lesser stress, emotional overwhelm and overthinking especially as strategic thinkers and decision makers.

Mindfulness helps drive focus attention and quickly shift thinking by realizing inner strengths and zen (no assumptions, expectations nor prejudices). Although very topical, a healthy mind paints a picture of success of work as both important and personally meaningful. It also helps build relationships with empathy and compassion, which very likely helps prioritize behaviors that benefit physical and mental wellbeing. A healthy balance between work & life priorities and managing their stress levels helps in living NOW and HERE vs THEN and THERE, which is foundation to executive presence and decision making.

Balance in life is like a thermostat, where there is only one ambient point anything too high (hot) or too low (cold) makes one feel uneasy and uncomfortable. And guess what is needed the most by all of us, with all the VUCA world around, is to make decisions with resilience and candor to strike a balance. Skillfulness refers to the ability to upskill, adapt and grow ones’ knowledge and thinking towards becoming resourceful. While change might destabilize people’s routine and make them anxious, the truth is that change is the only constant and unpredictability is itself a hallmark characteristic of complexity. More importantly change is a precursor to upskill and prepare to face future.

Historically, what made for successful leaders in the Industrial Era (viz., technical skills, personal strengths such as communication, charisma and vision, and an organizational focus on efficiency and cost management initiatives), simply won’t work in the rampant unpredictability of the VUCA era. Traditionally, skillfulness was correlated with problem solving capability and reaction time (most education system still bank on timed tests and stress-based interviews as POE-Process of Elimination for screening candidates, this I call is RAT (Race Against Time). RAT based tests help the candidates who can triage a situation and deploy set patterns of knowledge (mostly theoretically assimilated) qualify but the world today is opening new ways of challenges, new and unprecedented questions around change itself, which no books or theory has comprehensively covered. In fact, the next skills we need to evolve is how to do things differently and build environment where all ideas are invited, openness to experiment for out-of-box thinking and failure is celebrated and not penalized.

Hence the new age skills require an overhaul from “managing inertia to change through top down approach” to a place “where change is not a management problem but an ethos of everyday and everyone’s life”. As new skillsets, we need people who see the need for the company to thrive in a world in which change is business as usual. That’s very different from seeing change as an implementation problem rather change as an opportunity to evolve, redesign and innovate. The new skills require, out-of-the-box thinking, the generation of new ideas, and the ability to visualize all the possible ways to thrive in wake of change. This means evolving leaderships skills which capitalize on change by being unconventional, inventive and enterprisingly entrepreneurial. Times like these always reminded me of the words of Arthur Golden, “Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are.”

GOING BEYOND COMFORT ZONE

Although easier said than done, as humans love predictability and stability, the new skillset required is to embrace change and its ingenuity, thus purposefully unsettling oneself out of comfort zone. As the key question is not how can we best respond or adapt to change? Rather the moot point is to envision how can we make the organization stronger through the change? How versatile can the organization, its purpose, people and culture become to not just endure the challenges of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity in an everchanging world? Finally, it’s either you allow VUCA to "manage," overload and overwhelm you, or you accept and manage it, so that you and your team encash the opportunity than W(h)ine over it. 

The answer to above lies within YOU (your mindfulness and your skillfulness) by embracing change and breaking VUCA down into its component parts with Vision with Understanding, Clarity and Agility to make this world a better place! When you decide to accept VUCA (Vision with Understanding, Clarity and Agility), you choose to make yourself and your organization relish and thrive with Mindful and Skillful Leadership Development to embrace future of change…

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