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How purpose supports your leadership in a VUCA world

As we move into a new, exciting yet scary era of exponential change and disruption we can’t rely on the old ways of leading and organising our businesses and society.

We’e already experiencing rapid change and disruption in business and the turmoil in the political arena globally – Brexit, Catalonia wanting to separate from Spain, fundamentalism, nationalism and demagogues arise come to mind.

On the other hand, we’re seeing an amazing undercurrent of positive signs in the world that rarely reach the news: reduced poverty, fewer wars, increased equality and amazing new technologies that are doing good. In this next chapter we are entering, ethics will be a vital quality for leaders. How can leaders cultivate muscle, the choices we make and how these benefit the entire world?

We are now standing at a crossroad. How can we build a world with more equality and fairness for all, creating a brighter future for many? How can we go from an ego-centric view to a more conscious world-centric view? There are a lot of positive things going on right now regarding global consciousness. Movements are arising, such as the “Me too”-movement and “Fridays for future” initiated by Greta Thunberg. These movements are impacted mindsets globally.

Welcome to the VUCA world

VUCA means Volatile, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity. This is the world we are now livening in and the question is how can we prepare ourselves and our business to be more comfortable living in this VUCA world? How can we make good choices when we don’t know?

The Cynefin framework by Dave Snowden explains it beautifully:

The ‘Simple’ domain is like a recipe. The same amount of flour, sugar, egg will yield the same result over and over again. It’s predictable, a clear connection between cause and effect.

The ‘Complicated’ domain means that there are many different ways to achieve  good practice but you need a certain expertise to understand how to get there.

The ‘Complex’ domain is where cause and effect intertwine. Here, it becomes difficult to predict anything. If you do something once it doesn’t mean that it will work again. Leadership, trust, culture change and parenting are examples of the complex domain. Adaptive leadership, novel thinking, storytelling and being able to detect patterns become important here.

The ‘Chaotic’ domain is where there is no connection between cause and effect. Here leaders need to act and experiment to learn and detect potential patterns.

As leders, we need to play in all four domains of the Cynefin map. One approach might work with one type of problem, but other problems may require a different approach. In the past, organisations have tried to solve complex and chaotic problems with the mindsets from the simple and complicated domain only.

Going forward we need to prepare leaders to deal with the complex and chaotic domains (VUCA). Developing an internal compass with a sense of purpose and a clear set of values that guides your choices and decisions is a cornerstone in dealing with the VUCA world.

The search for meaning and care is accelerating in all organisations at the moment and that is a sign of hope and a natural next step both in human and organisational development. When the world becomes more complex and chaotic we need to find ways to cope. Purpose is like the strange attractor in midst of chaos. It creates order and helps detect patterns – a guide for complexity so to say.

In this new era of complexity, we need to redefine leadership. We need to get away from the view that leadership as an elevated status or a specific ability limited to a handful of people. Anyone that feels personal accountability to find potential in people or processes can be a leader. The outcome of helping everyone find their purpose and values would be more self-motivated, more resilient, more ethical, and more fulfilled people all around.

If we can do this with sincerity, authenticity and depth we will create more human organisations and a better world all together.

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