Forms of Leadership in a VUCA World

by Jean Richardson on April 12, 2017

On my desk today is a white paper from an internationally recognized coach and author for whom I have developed great respect.  I’m taking a class from her as part of my quest to understand the world around me and the way I need to be in it.  There are many forms of leadership, and some forms seem to work better than others in knowledge work environments where highly collaborative group process is required to solve complex problems.

Increasingly over the last ten to fifteen years I have come to understand that leadership happens as much with the self as with any other or group of others.  And, the self is the most difficult to lead.

When we realize we are in a VUCA world, we know that volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity are not a temporary state that we will be able to master and get under control.  Rather, VUCA is the way things are, and sometimes, it seems that everything is speeding up in this regard.  And, our human ability, the local skillset and competencies that we have within ourselves, has improved in some ways, but perhaps not nearly fast enough.  We know through our own experience that, to keep up with the characteristics of our environment and the problems before us, the developing the habit of learning is a necessity.

So, learning about and practicing leadership skills is an ongoing discipline.  Many of the forms of leadership coming into common parlance in organizations today have actually been around for quite a while:  servant leadership, situational leadership, and adaptive leadership, while others are newer and still somewhat uncommon in our way of thinking such as host leadership, pervasive leadership, holocracy, and sociocracy, though even these forms have their roots in older traditions such as hospitality toward guests and self-organization of human communities.

A couple of months ago, I was facilitating a learning session for a software engineering team.  They were learning about a new method for understanding what the customer wanted.  At one point, one of the engineers burst out, “I don’t know why we’re spending our time on this!  We have people for this, and those people are called managers.”  It seemed to me that he was speaking up for one view that at least some people in the room held.  Though it turned out to be a minority view, it remains important.

Many people feel that leadership is someone else’s responsibility:  their spouse, their parent, their manager, their elected representative.  We have evolved a culture in which many people have given their power away.  And, now we have a world in which a small group of “leaders” simply can’t address all the problems all the time with sufficient responsiveness to cause a result that is good for the whole.  We can still have exemplars whom we look up to, but it’s more and more important for us to realize that the power we need is within us.

And so, learning about leading is important for many people.  Learning how to lead when you do not have supreme power is just as important.  Supreme power, or ultimate authority, is increasingly a harmful stance in our VUCA world.

It’s important to have an understanding of a range of approaches to leading, and it’s often helpful to use multiple approaches in concert with each other.  For instance, I often have the situational leadership model in the back of my mind while I’m also applying other approaches to leadership.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing about many of the forms of leadership I mentioned above.

Related posts:

Servant Leadership for a VUCA World

Pervasive Leadership for a VUCA World

Adaptive Leadership for a VUCA World

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