Is VUCA ‘old hat’?

Posted & filed under Blog, Executive Coaching, Top Team Effectiveness.

Someone recently asked me if I thought the VUCA concept was a little “old hat”?

I personally have yet to come across a better thinking “model” about the systems and cultures that many of my coaching clients find themselves operating in. They are indeed more complex, volatile and unpredictable.

What interests me as a coach is how can I support my clients in their own personal development to become more effective leaders.

The present VUCA environments require a development focus less on traditional leadership behavioural capabilities, to one focused more on developing more complex “thinking” abilities; adaptive competencies such as learning agility, self-awareness, comfort with ambiguity and developing a strategic “mindset”.

Increasingly, coaching conversations seem to be about growing “bigger” minds, and building a greater collective (versus individual) sense of what 21st century leadership is about. As John McGuire noted in “Transforming your Leadership Culture”, “Organizations have grown skilled at developing individual leadership competencies, but have mostly ignored the challenge of transforming their leader’s mindset from one level to the next. Today’s horizontal development within a mindset must give way to the vertical development of bigger minds”

This idea of personal vertical development, referring to the “thinking” stages that people progress through in how they make sense of their world, is really useful to introduce clients to. Robert Kegan in his book “Immunity to Change” uses the best model I have come across for helping people “think about their thinking” and develop a more powerful future leadership “mindset”. The three key levels Kegan focuses our attention on are:

Socialised mind: At this level we are shaped by the expectations of those around us. What we think and say is strongly influenced by what we think others want to hear (group thinking often found in organizations).
Self-authoring mind: We have now developed our own ideology or internal compass to guide us. Our sense of self is aligned with our own belief system, personal code, and values. We can take stands, set limits on behalf of our own internal “voice.”
Self-transforming mind: We have our own ideology, but can now step back from that ideology and see it as limited or partial. We can hold more contradiction and oppositeness in our thinking and no longer feel the need to gravitate towards polarised thinking.
So where executive coaching can be really helpful is giving people the supported “space” to grow their adaptive and agile thinking during these complex, volatile and often unpredictable times.

“A new leadership paradigm seems to be emerging with an inexorable shift away from one- way, hierarchical, organization-centric communication toward two-way, network-centric, participatory and collaborative leadership styles. Most of all a new mindset seems necessary, apart from new skills and knowledge. All the tools in the world will not change anything if the mindset does not allow and support change.”

Grady McGonagill and Tina Doerffer
The Leadership Implications of the Evolving Web,
Bertelsmann Stiftung Leadership Series

Martin is a board and senior executive level leadership coach. Drawing on his board-level experience he inspires his clients to build their own authentic leadership brand to improve their personal impact and wider business results. Watch his video here or click here to read his bio.

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