The Reality of Change in a VUCA World

By: Catherine Daw MBA, CMC, ACC   Published: March 2019

Reading time:  4 minutes

Most people recognize the term VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous). It aptly reflects today’s environment – politically, economically, socially and business-wise. In a VUCA world, change has become so ubiquitous it has merged into one constant stream with no clear beginning, middle or end. This can lead to stress for your people and has a direct impact on their confidence (or lack there of) in change.

This view of VUCA may appear to position it in a negative light so in order to look at it from a positive leadership perspective, I suggest using the acronym differently; a leader in a VUCA world is:

  1. Visionary
  2. Understanding
  3. Clear
  4. Agile

In this context, change can demonstrate a more proactive and energetic approach. The paradigm of VUCA requires vibrant leadership and insight of the journey ahead. Leadership moves from providing guidance and direction to facilitating and developing individuals, teams, and the organization. The role of change leaders is more adaptive – ready to deal with specific challenges and turn them into opportunities and advantages.

Using the leadership perspective of VUCA consider the following:

  1. Visionary leaders have a compelling vision for their organization. They see beyond the ambiguities, challenges, and noise of today to a strong, empowering picture of tomorrow. They are more willing to provide freedom to others to create the best path to actualizing the vision. This type of leadership lives in multiple areas and people within the organization and builds a shared context for change along with the longer-term goals.


  1. Use of collective intelligence to gain understanding is essential to overcome the ever-present lack of certainty. Given the many highly-specialized work fields, leaders are not always the most knowledgeable. Leading is more about asking the right questions rather than providing answers.


  1. Create clarity through a deliberate approach of broader communications of scope and purpose is the best defense to complexity and resistance. Leaders are often well embedded in the change initiative having already faced their own change resistors. This may create a failure to address the ‘whys’ and ‘wherefores’ of everyone else. Keeping clear communications (up and down) with deliberate purpose, eliminates (okay…reduces) resistance and ensures preparedness through every stage.


  1. Facilitating new ways to build solutions and ways forward are critical to deal with ambiguity. Currently there is a tug and pull between small ‘a’ agile and big ‘A’ agile. Big Agile is more common, perhaps better understood and under active adoption/implementation in organizations. Small ‘a’ agile is more about people, leadership, and culture. This kind of agility – Leadership Agility – is an imperative to survive and thrive.


The journey in a VUCA world requires a reality check on how to lead change differently.  Adopting a positive leadership perspective on the VUCA approach can accelerate success and make for a much smoother ride.