Featured: Five key concepts and supporting research and tools will help you lead through adaptive change in a VUCA world, one that is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous, as presented in Mexico City for CPA firm leaders at the Russell Bedford International conference, yet applicable for any leader.
It’s been a year full of volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, or VUCA, events. Populist movements such as Brexit in the UK and, when this post was originally written, the election of Donald Trump in the USA are challenging establishment thinking. (Update to 2021, Donald Trump is no longer president, however, the presidency and the expectations about the transfer of power following elections will never be the same.) Futurist Ayelet Baron describes a phenomenon that captured the essence of leader adaptability needed:
“You can tell a 21st century leader because they don’t talk about how their organization is structured; they focus on bringing their shared purpose [and message] to the world through their communities.”
Whether you agree with the changes in politics or not, adapting to the changes before us, using 21st century thinking, is urgent and necessary for every leader. Then, what follows, is to clarify your organization’s (as well as any project’s) updated purpose.
Last month in Mexico City, I presented five strategies useful for assessing and clarifying problems, communicating purpose, and for generating solutions using several Liberating Structures processes.
As Ayelet Baron has described, today’s leader “goes into the world and breaks down walls by bringing communities together in conversations.” That is exactly what Liberating Structures like “Open Space Technology” will do, and what better place to try this out than with 100 owners and partners of CPA firms from all over the world as a part of Russell Bedford International’s 33rd Annual Conference.
These CPA firm owners, some of the most cautious and careful leaders among the professions, took on the challenge to experiment and overcome reluctance, skepticism and traditional views of leadership. In the photo below, you can see the aftermath of the experience — the sense of creativity, joy and power of liberating structures. There is hope for us all to do the same.
The full slideshare presentation with video is below:
This article is also the second in a series explaining a simple Data, Purpose, Plan and Evaluate (DPPE) structure useful for agile strategy and planning in just such a wild west, VUCA world.
In a nutshell, the SlideShare presentation above highlights the following purpose driven, adaptive leadership principles needed today:
1) Be Willing to Open the Space
- Try New Things, Take Smart Risks
- Harness the Maker Instinct (From futurist, Bob Johansen – we all have the ability to be creative)
- Consider Liberating Structures (Break away from traditional meeting formats that hamper creative thinking needed in a complex world
2) Sense the Changing World
- 21st Century Leaders – What is required to adapt to VUCA
- Adaptive vs. Technical Change – The critical difference
- “AntiFragile” – Better through stress
3) Stay Results Oriented
- 100 year companies have something to teach us
- Leader behaviors – McKinsey research helps us know what works best today
4) Create => Co-Create
- Conversational Intelligence – Neuroscience helps use move from “I” to “We” productively (Create a common purpose to unite your groups and teams)
5) Increase Self-Awareness => Development
- Theory U – Understanding how to be present to sense what change is needed, collaboratively
A handout that summarizes the research and tools referenced in this presentation is here: 5 Strategies to LEAD through Adaptive Change.
Also see the full list of photos from the session, here:
Clarifying purpose while adapting to change is a sign of a leader who listens and can innovate with and through her or his leaders, leading from the side and the rear, and from within the group, not just in front. The third principle above includes a focus on leadership behaviors needed today based on research by McKinsey.
Researchers showed that out of 20 distinct leadership traits identified in organizations whose leadership performance was strong, high-quality leadership teams typically displayed 4 of the 20 possible types of behavior; these 4 behaviors explained 89 percent of the variance between strong and weak organizations in terms of leadership effectiveness
1. Solving problems effectively.
2. Operating with a strong results orientation. (Purpose)
3. Seeking different perspectives.
4. Supporting others.
This is from the McKinsey Quarterly, first published in 1964, which now offers the perspective today that “much of the management intuition that has served us in the past will become irrelevant,” (Dobbs, 2014.) McKinsey forecasts a crash of:
1) technological disruption,
2) rapid emerging-markets growth, and
3) widespread aging as “long-held assumptions [give] way, and seemingly powerful business models [become] upended.”
Sound familiar? Are you ready?
Author, Deb Nystrom, is the owner of REVELN Consulting as well as a senior partner at Ideas for Action, LLC—a consulting practice that is driven by a passion to engage the full potential of people and organizations. Her specialties include higher education and nonprofit leadership, executive coaching organization development; strategic planning; and senior leader team coaching.
Additional tools to help:
- Agile Leader Learning for Sustainable Change: Steps through Sharp Rocks (Includes handout below)
- (Handout) 21st Century Learning is Developmental and Dynamic (.pdf)
- 6 Choices for High Performance Teams, Groups and Psuedo-Teams: Achievement Is How You Say It! (Includes handout )
Future articles will address planning and evaluation, engagement of the DPPE model. You may also find the following articles on REVELN.com, Deb’s website useful:
- One Overlooked Element that Can Stop or Supercharge Any Project (Starting with Data in DPPE, Data, Purpose, Plan, Evaluate
- Courage for New Leaders To Listen & Learn in the New Year
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Originally published on