V - Being Visionary, U - Being Understood, C - Being Courageous, A - Being Agile
It might seem redundant or insulting to suggest that a VUCA leader also needs to be a visionary leader. How can a leader, especially an excellent leader, ever not be visionary? Being visionary in times of uncertainty for any individual is hard, but in times of global disruption it is especially challenging.
Followers in VUCA times are actively seeking a clarion voice that shouts confidence in the future, and where their individual effort is an important and significant part in achieving that future. As few leaders have access to a “crystal ball” of the future, and are hopefully committed to being honest, authentic and integrous, how do they then share a future (vision) that the organisation will commit to in confidence that it is also achievable? A mindset shift of how we articulate the future may be the secret to that successful strategy. As the future is less predictable in VUCA times, the visionary leader can either throw the proverbial dart, or alternatively frame their vision in three areas of focus: (1) What is the organisation “rooted” by going forward into the future? (2) What will the organisation be optimizing as we move forward into the future? and (3) why is this particular vision significant for every individual in the organisation? (Note: Organisation is synonymous with corporation in this series).
Our memory muscles are being tested daily. How we now shop (online, curb side service), how we are required to meet (masks, COVID tests), how we now travel publicly (masks, COVID tests, sanitization), is radically different from anything we have experienced in our lifetime. Professionally it is very different – hybrid work forces, zoom meetings, social distancing, and totally digital processes are now institutionalized into the corporate future. The strategic planning life cycle of what was once 10 years, many times reduced to three years, now has a 3 to 6 month horizon. Vision statements today cannot consist of growth goals, market share, geographic expansion, or one of the many traditional elements of a preferred future we once articulated as a vision. Today a vision statement has to be rooted in who we are and why we exist. In essence the corporate or organisational DNA of vision, mission and values. In today’s winds of change, our organisational roots have to be firm and deep. We may not know how hard and where the next force for change is coming, but we can be clear on why we exist, how we will behave, and what in an uncertain future is non-negotiable. Visionary leaders in uncertain times may not be able to identify a specific and tangible set of outcomes for the future, but they are able to assure their organisation of what is certain: the mission/purpose and core values. Visionary leaders revisit, articulate, communicate continuously, and have a “one-page copy” of their organisation’s identity in front of every employee constantly – be they at the office or working from home. Why we exist is the foundation to any vision for the future – it is what roots the organisation regardless of tomorrow.
The second priority is “keeping the main thing, the main thing.” Planning for uncertainty is a complex and undesirable process for any leader of any organisation. In disruptive times, the obvious place to turn to for some certainty is you as the leader. Many organisational leaders have quickly transitioned to scenario thinking as they attempt to share a vision for the future (and this is certainly not a bad strategy), however scenarios to the average follower often appear to be too ambiguous. In a recent interview I was struck by a leader’s response to the question of whether this was the right vision for their organisation. The answer was, “I don’t know, but the better question is what am I optimizing for?” Visionary leaders in uncertain times are unambiguous in talking, walking, and keeping focus on what needs to be optimized for the future. Fundamentally is all our energy, efforts, resources detected to that one optimal goal. Is it customer service, efficiency, financial growth, quality…? Visions are generally multi-faceted, but in VUCA times it is becoming critical for the leader to speak, focus, and be unwavering on the area of focus that has to be the first among equals. Clarity of the “one thing” that is to be optimized creates a shared vision and brings focus to the organisation in energy and effort. The visionary leader is crystal clear on the “one thing” that is essential for the mission and sustainability of the organisation. Can all employees in your organisation state the “one thing” that is critical for the future?
As important as being rooted in a strong organisational identity, and having focus on one thing, is a vision that shows clearly why am I (the follower) essential to this future? What is becoming increasingly important to the follower in being committed, being energized, and being passionate about the future, is what unique part do I play in this future. It is not a visionary leader who looks behind to see no followers!
“More than any other goal, millennials are dedicated to living a full life, and they’re not afraid to let their passion guide their decisions. They refuse to accept anything other than what they believe is a good fit for who they are and what they want to do with their time and talent. And they take this attitude into the heart of the workplace.” – Forbes, November 6, 2018. As millennials are now the growing core of followers in our organisations (and Gen Z have the same trait), this must be a key part of shared vision.
A VUCA world needs VUCA leaders, and VUCA leaders must be resilient to a changing future. Motivating followers with a shared vision is more important than ever before, but is more complex in uncertainty. The VUCA leader might consider more importance on how to address the future/present the vision than what that future might be. This approach may be framed by three questions: (1) What is the organisation “rooted” by going forward into the future? (2) What will the organisation be optimizing as we move forward into the future? and (3) why is this particular vision significant for every individual in the organisation?
By Dr. John Reynolds (Board member of Tabor)
John C. Reynolds, PhD
President, Los Angeles Pacific University
John C. Reynolds, PhD, provides leadership to Los Angeles Pacific University, an affordable, flexible, and online university designed specifically for the working adult. Reynolds earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees in computer science and information systems in South Africa, and later a PhD in Higher Education Leadership at Azusa Pacific University. He also serves as a professor, teaching in his research interests of leadership, board governance, organisational behavior/psychology, and strategic thinking.
In addition to his over 20 years of experience in higher education, Reynolds has worked as a strategy executive in the mining industry and as global Chief Information Officer (CIO) for World Vision International, a large private international relief organisation. Reynolds is the author of several books/chapters and is a regular contributor of posts and blogs on social media focusing particularly in the areas of leadership and strategy. Reynolds serves on several governance boards, including BDI Inc. (USA), LCC International University (Lithuania), API Educational Foundation (South Africa), Tabor Institute of Higher Education (Australia), African Enterprise (Canada), and LCC International Fund (USA).
Further professional information on John is available on LinkedIn
Opinions expressed by content contributors, interviewees and writers in articles do not necessarily represent the opinion of Tabor Institute of Higher Education.