Leadership Development and Selection in a VUCA World

Likely you’ve heard the term VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity) and, perhaps, some agencies have begun utilizing the acronym in long-term strategic planning. But have you thought about its application in leadership selection and development? Here are some considerations to think about.

Recently, at an international conference relating to assessment center methods, I listened to a variety of presentations from subject matter experts about assessing workers for their high potential for leading agencies and companies in the future. I began to wonder how I would start to incorporate VUCA toward developing and selecting leaders who will face these new challenges, in addition to handling the existing conditions that we’re all familiar with.

Those who have been in the field of assessments and selection processes for new leadership readily agree that research and science suggest we study the past to predict the future. In other words, the person’s past behaviors are the best predictors on the person’s future performance. Makes sense, and I’ve observed that very premise in the work force. Curiously, during this conference I asked myself this question, “What if the past changes?”

That may sound rather silly, but think about it, we are looking at past behaviors that were centered on a different time. What if the environment that this new leader faces looks totally different from the environment that existed in the past? Is that then necessarily a valid predictor regarding their future potential as a leader? Will they have the necessary competencies that will be required in this new environment?

When designing selection processes it is important to consider what the future may look like for your agency. Break down the VUCA acronym so everyone has a better understanding where the volatility may originate or what will be most uncertain. Try to determine the areas that will likely be more complex and require understanding of multiple factors when making decisions, or relate ambiguity toward the “inability to explain why”. Consideration should be given to what new competencies will be required for these new leaders to lead in a VUCA world and how you can develop a valid selection process that will correctly assess for these. This not only applies to top leadership positions in the immediate future, but trickles down to the first line supervisor since many of them will eventually progress to upper level positions and are critical to sustain your leadership development pipeline.

These leaders will need to have the ability to recognize and prepare for the VUCA world. They will have to handle a face-paced and accelerating work environment that currently, at least in government, does not change quickly at all. These leaders need to be competent at finding learning opportunities, evaluate their experiences and then apply that learning to their environments. Intellect will be critical to provide analysis, insightful judgement and to deal effectively with complex and ambiguous information. Finally, these leaders will need to be action oriented, enthusiastic and driven for results more than ever before.

VUCA will represent the new normal for these leaders of the future. The question is what are we doing today to select and develop them to be successful so, in turn, our organizations are successful and in it for the long term?

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