If you’ve picked up a news article in the last few weeks—maybe even the last few years, you might have a sense of how rapidly things have been changing in the global economy. In the business world, this is what we call a VUCA world.
In the second of this two-part video series, I explore the remaining 3 skills we need as business owners and leaders to thrive in such an environment.
What kind of leader is that? What skills should a leader develop and possess to survive and thrive in a VUCA world?
In this second video, I discuss the remaining three skills: learning agility and cognitive flexibility, empathy and a people-first approach, and ability to communicate well and provide clarity.
In the first video, I discussed skills leaders need to survive and thrive in a VUCA world. There are six:
- Confidence in ambiguity and uncertainty
- Solutions-orientation and ruthless prioritization
- Learning agility and cognitive flexibility
- Empathy and a people-first approach
- Ability to communicate well and provide clarity
In this second video, I will be discussing the remaining 3 skills.
Learning agility and cognitive flexibility
These two concepts are similar but refer to different things.
Learning agility allows us to learn something new and apply what we’ve learned in a different context. For example, as a business coach, I might find that a strategy being used by a client may be used to solve a problem of another client in a different industry. It’s being able to find lessons and solutions from different sources and knowing how to apply them in a new situation.
On the other hand, cognitive flexibility allows us to adapt our thinking, behaviour, and attitude in response to our environment, particularly in changing contexts and situations.
Learning agility and cognitive flexibility is the perfect antidote to ambiguity and uncertainty because it makes past lessons, solutions, and strategies transferrable and appropriate to new situations. Leaders who possess both skills put themselves at a great advantage because they don’t start from scratch. They take advantage of past experiences to find solutions to new problems they face. Leaders who have learning agility and cognitive flexibility are, in fact, learning machines.
Having learning agility allows us to find ways to improve, innovate, and grow. Cognitive flexibility allows us to maximise the use of what we’ve learned and apply it in different areas of our business and our life. Aren’t these skills worth having?
A good way to develop these skills is to learn how to ascertain root causes of problem and how to find patterns and similarities in problems and solutions. You also develop these skills when you become open to new ideas, new solutions, and new ways of doing things. This also entails being more open to seeing things from different perspectives.
Empathy and people-first approach
Ever heard of the fight, flight, or freeze response? This response in the brain is activated when we feel threatened, which is a typical reaction when we experience a crisis. We begin operating in survival mode. This is how most team members will start feeling when a VUCA situation threatens the business and their livelihood. The problem with operating in survival mode is that it shuts off certain parts of the brain, particularly the part that allows us to think with clarity. Instead, the brain goes into safety mode where it chooses among 3 actions: fight, flight or freeze.
As a business leader, you do not want your team members to go into survival mode. You want them to think strategically. You want them thinking about solutions. You do not want them to shut off and leave you to do all of the thinking. In chaotic situations, we want all hands on deck. And we want these hands to be effective and productive.
This is why it is important for leaders to make their teams feel safe. This begins with having empathy for all of your stakeholders: your employees, your customers, your business partners, your suppliers, and even the community where your business belongs. We want people to feel safe. A leader with empathy puts people at ease because they know that their leader cares about their well-being. It makes them feel safe and secure. When people feel that way, they are more likely to contribute and focus on finding solutions.
Ability to communicate well and provide clarity
When things are chaotic, we need clarity. A leader who can communicate well and provide clarity to all stakeholders—that includes employees, customers, partners, and suppliers—is a leader who can promote confidence and motivation when these are needed the most.
In a VUCA situation, we need a leader who can let the team know and understand where we are, where we want or need to be, and how to get there. We need a leader who can motivate the team to act so that we can get to where we need to be and to do what each of us needs to accomplish to get there. We need a leader who can make the team understand their individual roles and how important it is for them to fulfill their roles so that the team can collectively achieve our team goals.
We also need a leader who can ease our customers, partners, and suppliers. We want them to continue working with us, despite disruptions. For them to be willing to do that, they need to know what is going on, what will happen, and what the business is doing to make sure that their needs will be met.
In tough times, we need a leader who can help us get out of a sticky situation, communicate this solution to everyone, and motivate everyone to action. We need a leader who shows empathy and who demonstrates that they care for everyone.
A VUCA world is a tough world to live in. Nonetheless, the right leader can steer a business towards success. This leader is someone who is self-aware, confident, solutions-oriented, ruthless in prioritisation, has learning agility and cognitive flexibility, empathetic, and communicates with clarity. Are you that kind of that person? Do you wish to be that leader?