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Leading In a VUCA World

November 21, 2017

Today everyone is talking about VUCA and what it means to lead in a such an environment. The question is "Are there any different competencies a VUCA leader needs to have or is it just that some competencies need to be further honed and developed into strengths?"










First let's reiterate what exactly the VUCA World is:

  • V = Volatile. Today's business environment is constantly changing. The change occurs at varying speeds and can happen with varying intensity at different times and in different situations.

  • U = Uncertain. The ability to predict the changes and the intensity is no longer that easy. There are times when people are surprised when faced with various issues and events.

  • C = Complex. Today there are multiple forces and variables impacting the environment at the same time. The number of directions or areas that impact a business are almost incomprehensible. The global environment ensures that decisions are no longer as straight forward as they once were. With clients, vendors, competition and teams spread in different corners of the world, there are innumerable factors & variables that can lead to chaos and confusion.

  • A = Ambiguous. With so much happening all over, it becomes difficult to read the environment and reality becomes hazy. There is a chance of misreading the meaning of certain conditions and not understanding the true nature of Cause-and-effect.


In such an environment a leader needs to be that much more adept and capable to sail his ship through these turbulent waters. While everything written about what leaders need would certainly be required here too, I feel there are a few competencies that need to be developed and honed that much more to have the maximum "Leadership Impact".


There is enough discussion about the need for Critical thinking and Problem solving, I'm going to share some competencies that I feel are essential to get the best out of VUCA.


  1. Self Awareness

This is a pretty obvious competence spoken about in various contexts and models, question is why is it specifically important for VUCA leaders?

Self-awareness as defined by Daniel Goleman in his books and research on Emotional Intelligence where he states it is knowing one's Emotions, strengths, weaknesses, drives, values and goals- and their impact on others.

  • It's important for a leader to be aware of how the VUCA environment is affecting him emotionally, is he getting frustrated, stressed or bogged down by situations around him.

  • Does he credit his moods with blame on an employee or team member or does he understand that this is his emotional reaction to VUCA.

  • Does he understand his reactions towards others and address the way he needs to ideally respond in stressful situations or does he feel that his reactions are justified by the outcomes not being achieved by the team.

  • When a successful Leader suddenly faces VUCA and thus failures, is he able to introspect on his strengths & probable weaknesses in the new situation or does he bash on, regardless of the fact that he might not have certain strengths needed to navigate through these turbulent waters.


All these questions are answered through a higher degree of Self Awareness.


2. Passion to Excel (Grit)

The Passion to Excel is defined in our 5S leadership model asthe Focus to be the best through achieving long term goals & ambitions, along with, the Grit to follow through no matter the obstacles, challenges or failures that come one's way.

Angela Lee Duckworth has stated in her book "Grit: The power of Passion &Persevarance"- Grit is passion and perseverance for a long term goal. Grit is having stamina to go at it again and again. Grit is sticking with your future day in and day out, not just for the week, not for the month but for years working really hard to make that future a reality.

Grit is treating life like a marathon and not a sprint!

  • In a VUCA world it's very easy to justify a failure or lack of growth to the turbulent waters or changes that occurred between the time of planning and during the final execution.

  • A person with a Passion to Excel does not say we could not achieve due to.......Instead he says, we achieved this despite.........


3. Learning Mindset



A learning mindset as defined in our 5S Leadership model is the desire to constantly want to better yourself, by seeking new and engaging experiences, keeping yourself open to newer, innovative and better ways of doing something through actively seeking feedback and opinions.

  • This competence again is very critical for a leader to keep his doors open to what others think and believe about the situation, decisions and plans.

  • Many a leader feels his experience is the yardstick and can give him & his organisation guidance based on his experience; not realising that there experience might not hold good in the new VUCA environment.

  • Sometimes a leaders rigidity to continue on the path he has laid is the downfall of many an organisation.

This particular competence has been adapted from the article "LEARNING MINDSET: How Leaders Develop Through Experience by Dr. Steve Terrell, Aspire Consulting."


4. Empowering people

To Empower people means to create an environment where people have independence in their work, where along with responsibility, authority to take decisions is also delegated . To Empower people is to enable them with all the information, knowledge and skills required and then have trust in their competence and capabilities.

This competence becomes of prime importance in a VUCA world if a leader tends to keep knowledge, info and power to himself. These actions ensure that:

  • When the team faces a sudden change or volatile situation they are not capable and confident to handle the situation. 

  • They fear making a mistake and will wait for the leader to come and personally steer them through the turmoil.

  • Often this leads to missed opportunities due to delayed actions and decisions from a person who is not as connected with the situation as the team itself.

  • A VUCA world often needs quick decisions and actions; however, when all authority is centered at one place it creates a bottle neck, ensuring that the speed and agility of the organisation is hampered.


5. Empathetic Leadership