Anyone who has anything to do with organisational or leadership development will be familiar with the statement: “We live in a ‘V.U.C.A.’ world”. They will also know that it’s time for us to learn how to redefine our roles as leaders, when we carry responsibility for others.
Covid-19 is showing us in a very dramatic way what V.U.C.A. actually means. Let’s be honest, these types of situations have increased dramatically over the last decades, with far more severe consequences for the world’s economic system and the human psyche than rational assessments indicate.
Since the millennium crisis, when the world was convinced that all computer systems would crash simultaneously and everybody fell into an irrational collective panic, we can see how the growth of social networks and the rapid flow of information (above all negative information) is fostering this type of behaviour. This trend coincides with the psychological consequences of crisis situations. There is an ever-increasing culture of anxiety, fear of losing control or making bad decisions and ultimately being held accountable by the media. This has infected major decision makers, be it politicians, entrepreneurs or particularly middle management in organisations, who have always been subjected to pressures from both sides, when stressful situations arise.
True leadership means actively navigating in the midst of chaos as if guided by a compass, and this we can only do when we embrace these four points:
1. The ability to recognize your starting position in the here and now
Anxiety is never a good counsellor. Anxiety does not allow us to see the situation as it really is. Instead it creates a picture or barrier in our minds, which focuses our attention on potential outcomes and negative consequences for our lives. We have to make a conscious decision that our starting point is not some potential reality of an imagined future but the situation we find ourselves in today.
2. To choose the goal with a focus on a way out to what is possible in the positive sense and not with a focus on the abyss or that, which could happen in the worst case
Those who proceed, without reflection, to base their decisions and actions on such negative pictures are no longer in a position to lead because they have already decided what the outcome will be and therefore create all the conditions for a self-fulfilling prophecy.
That doesn’t mean that we should ignore the possible consequences of a situation. Of course, it’s important to weigh things up, to play out different scenarios and to develop strategies, especially when it’s about protecting the lives of others. However, it must always be based on the current situation and with an awareness that the future is not yet determined.
3. A very personal and stable point of reference
We need a “magnetic North pole”, which is not based on how we feel that day, our mood, news feeds or the opinions of others but rather on a solid foundation of values; an inner anchor point.
I have this, an inner “North Pole”, which gives me my point of reference time and time again. I am very thankful for that. Stop for a moment and ask yourself how stable your point of reference is.
4. A tool, a compass, which you can deploy quickly and situationally
A compass, which shows us the direction of our next step to bring us closer to our goal, or the direction I, my employees or my organisation need to take to make real progress. It can be used as a methodology, a leadership principle or a diagnostic tool.
Times like this require leaders who embrace this principle of navigation. It requires leaders who are able to navigate quickly and who are capable of asking themselves very honestly, whether they are bold enough to base every decision they make on hope and courage for a positive future, or if they make it on the basis of the fear of missing out or personal consequences.
I observe in my own case how important this difference is and how much strength it costs me to pause for a moment and to adjust my own mindset. I’m not always successful but I work at it and am rewarded by an engaged team whose behaviour motivates and inspires me, and who give me the courage to continue.
I wish all leaders the strength, to lead through this challenge in such a way, that the people for whom they are responsible feel encouraged, assured and supported because that is what they need right now.