If there was ever a good example of a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) dynamic in our world, it’s the COVID-19 health concern. It’s the perfect storm of panic driven by massive amounts of conflicting information, technology driving that information into our lives, and global disruption of critical services and cultural events. The list continues to grow.
The constant bombardment of new input brings waves of emotional triggers. In this dynamic, logic by itself is ineffective. The business solutions of the past have limited value. People are ill-equipped to manage this level of change and emotional load, but how we respond to this challenge is something we do control. How we lead ourselves and others through it requires daily updates of information without being overwhelmed into panic. How well equipped are you to lead well through this challenge?
How can we work through this VUCA dynamic?
- Accept that there is a new normal -constant change.
- Choose to engage change with vitality.
- Lead yourself and others with intentionality, purpose and organization.
- Employ a focused equipping process for yourself and your team.
- Reflect and revise often.
Consider your perspective on the situation? Is it a vision of loss or one of opportunity? If you look deeper, you can see the emotional triggers those questions pose. What stresses are you experiencing?
Loss = Fear
Opportunity = Courage
Accepting A New Normal
There is a saying, “The only thing that stays the same is change.” Even as we read, that rings very true. The sooner we embrace that, the sooner we can productively navigate into forward progress. Sounds easy, right? It can be if we are equipped and prepared to manage change well. Applying consequential thinking, a competence of emotional intelligence, can be a great tool for decision making, but what if we’re using it in the absence of optimism? A lack of optimism is likely to create an endless cycle of “What if” anxieties.
Acceptance is not submission to the inevitable. It’s a choice to face changing reality with courage.
That choice brings us freedom to move forward, to turn fear into courage, judgement into curiosity, and frustration into excitement. One positive outcome of accepting change is growth. There is no growth without change. As a leader, this is leadership by example. Lead yourself and lead others by accepting the current reality. Use your time and energy productively. Look for opportunities instead of potential loss or cost. Just like driving a car, where our focus goes our vehicle also goes.
Choose to Engage Change
This is not the same as accepting change. When a storm comes in the plains, cattle try to run away, but did you know that buffalo do exactly the opposite? They run toward the storm. In essence, they lean into the coming storm so the duration they are in the storm becomes less. This is not to say that rushing out in panic and punching someone in the face for a few rolls of toilet paper is running toward the storm. However, avoiding or neglecting the facts is not a successful strategy either. So, how do we navigate emotions, especially in times of unprecedented change? Navigating emotions, another critical competency of emotional intelligence, is the skill of re-purposing the energy from emotions into more intentional and strategic outcomes. That energy will be directed somewhere. We can either “let it happen,” most likely continuing non-productive cycles, or we can direct that energy with intention and purpose. As a leader, it’s important to understand that emotions are contagious. I’m sure you have experienced that. The way you choose to navigate your emotions, and that of others, will determine your success in harnessing your resources for better outcomes. Think of an energy exchange. If someone is stuck in a non-productive cycle around unresolved emotional triggers, then energy goes inward to deal with those unresolved issues. That takes energy away from more productive pursuits and the external efforts needed to move forward in a more agile and resilient manner. Going back to our “storm” analogy, getting stuck in the emotional storm by not navigating emotions well will burn more resources and energy, and result in sub-optimal outcomes and very little forward progress. Instead, we can navigate the emotions (and help others do the same) by focusing on the outcomes we desire, then navigating a path to get there.
Lead Yourself and Others with Intentionality and Purpose
Everyone is a leader. Do you believe that? It’s true. Even if all you are doing is leading yourself, others are watching. How you lead yourself and impact others is a choice. It is something you do control. Do you find yourself leaning on external motivators to influence your decisions like the financial markets, the media, your social media outlet of choice. Do you usually allow these to heavily influence your decision making? External motivators are unreliable, especially during a period of an enhanced VUCA dynamic. The normal channels of information are flooded with information and misinformation. Markets react and over-react adding waves of emotional triggers. Normal “voices of reason” are caught up in the whirlwind of VUCA. Sometimes, we as humans tend to take on the role of a lemming. A lemming is defined as “a person who unthinkingly joins a mass movement, especially a headlong rush to destruction.” Okay, before you start throwing things at me, what I’m saying is that we choose our path forward, and it doesn’t have to be what human nature can sometimes dictate for us. It is our choice. This is something we do control! To lead with intention and purpose in the face of a world caught up in fear and anxiety takes courage. Where does that courage come from?
First, rely on your internal motivators. Intrinsic Motivation is the internal power source you can count on. It comes from the overarching purpose in your life, your values, your philosophy of life and what you choose to believe in. Ask yourself, “What is the one thing I can count on when everything else falls short?” Building your capacity for intrinsic motivation in your life will be a source of energy you can count on independent of external factors. As a leader, once you have accepted and chosen to engage the challenge of the current reality (the change), this is where you set direction and strategy to drive efforts forward. This is a critical point of engagement. Increasing Empathy to those around you accelerates connection, trust building, and engagement. A good leader sets direction and leads from the front. A great leader brings those he leads together and locks arms, so everyone moves forward.
Activate A Vital and Focused Equipping Process
We hear the terms leadership, agile, resilient, and focused, but what do they mean? How does one authentically display these characteristics? It’s done through learning, understanding, and practice. There is a great tool that I use to provide insight into a person’s current measures in these desirable characteristics: the SEI-LTC (Six Seconds Emotional Intelligence – Leading Through Change) Assessment. Leading well through change starts by using both sides of our brain to make the best possible decisions. More on that in a future article. Research says that most decisions are driven by a significant emotional component. If you drill down far enough, you will find this to be true. Most of the time, people make decisions based on emotion then rationalize their decision with logic, but what happens when people reach a point of emotional overload where they are not equipped to manage the excess demand? The resulting outcome is like any infrastructure or system that gets overloaded and creates roadblocks, bottlenecks, and failure. The answer is to become stronger in your emotional intelligence -the set of skills and competencies best suited to lead well through change. Emotional Intelligence has twice the predictive power of IQ when it comes to performance, and even more importantly, these competencies are skills that can be developed far more rapidly than other less impactful skill sets. When we work with our organizational clients, we use 3 words to describe this process…Focus, Insight, Transformation (core FITness). This simple approach can be applied to any problem, any situation. As a leader this is NOT a time to hide hoping the storm passes you by. Sticking your head in the sand exposes other vulnerabilities. This is where leaders equip and empower themselves and their people with the right tools and skills to overcome the challenge and leverage unexpected opportunity. To do that, you need insight. Insight into the capacity for leadership and managing change that you and your team currently have. From insight comes focus. Clarity about the challenges you face and the resources you have to overcome them. Focus provides direction and, with good leadership, can enhance engagement and accelerate success. Transformation. This is starting with the end goal in mind and charting the right path forward. If what you already know is not enough, then do something new. The definition of insanity is -well, you already know that. In the VUCA world we live in, the intelligent leader is also the emotionally intelligent leader!
Reflect and Revise Often
This may seem to be of lesser importance. The reality is that it’s absolutely critical to achieving your desired outcomes. This is reflective evaluation, celebrating wins, locking in learning and the springboard to taking leadership to the next level. Hummingbird style of leadership is the ability to move with agility, to pivot quickly, to stop and observe and know what is true. These are critical components in successfully leading well through significant change. The greater the change, the more often a leader should apply this process. The ability to recognize patterns only happens if there is time to stop, observe, and reflect. Recognizing patterns, another key competency of emotional intelligence, enhances the decision-making process through an awareness of patterns driving yourself and others. In a VUCA dynamic, there are always patterns driving people. The ability to understand these patterns, and the ability to enhance emotional literacy (being able to name and understand the emotions driving people) provides a competitive advantage to the leader equipped with these skills and their team. A VUCA environment, by its very nature, is unstable. So, how do we find equilibrium in an unstable environment? We create it. It comes from inside. As a leader, taking the time to practice hummingbird leadership is a discipline that must be deployed to reach your desired goals as expeditiously as possible. When everything in us says move, we need to take the time to observe, reflect, understand until the right path forward appears. Then we act with courage and boldness! In a VUCA dynamic, worrying about what others might think is a sure way to get caught up in the whirlwind and lose ground. These times are the true measure of leadership, and many great leaders are forged in the fires of adversity and change.
The secret of being a great leader is growing self-awareness, self-management, self-direction -the three pursuits of emotional intelligence. The secret of leading well through change -leading from the inside out- means if you can lead yourself well through change, you can lead others well. Become the agile leader you want to be. Approach the challenge of leadership in a VUCA world with proven skills and a map for change that accelerates success.
Steve Goodner is the President of GSCFIT, and a Preferred Partner with Six Seconds, the world’s largest emotional intelligence community. GSCFIT is dedicated to equipping and empowering individuals, leaders and organizations through Focus, Insight and Transformation (FIT).