The world is complex and continuously changing rapidly. There is a lot of uncertainty and ambiguity in the political, socio-economic and environmental systems. Our leaders are facing major challenges. Nevertheless plenty of tools are available. What we lack is effective leadership. Leaders who are prepared for the VUCA World we currently live in.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990-1991, there were serious doubts about the fate and stability of the (former) Soviet territories. According to the American War College it was a ‘VUCA World', which stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. Over the years, the concept silently slipped away, but lately the term VUCA is back in the spotlight.
Democracy is a great thing, but it has a downside: in many countries, like the Netherlands, elections are held every four years, sometimes even earlier. When they want to be re-elected, this means that politicians only have a relatively short time to prove themselves. And so they often opt for the short-term solution. This is understandable, but deadly for transformational processes. Reducing fossil fuels, reforming the care system or reorganising the food supply: these are just a few of the 'heavy’ topics that are often passed on like a hot potato. Even though these issues have a major impact on our quality of life.
Still, there are of course leaders who think about the future, but they often face unexpected challenges. We live in times of rapidly changing circumstances, and it is difficult to make effective long-term plans. This requires leaders with different capabilities. It requires leaders who know their blind spot and therefore hear more, see more, but especially to feel more. And as Bill O'Brien (former CEO of Hanover Insurance) expressed it: ‘The success of an intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervener’. In other words, it is not so much what we do or how we do it, but the intrinsic motivation. What motives lead us? What do we find important and holds value to us? What is our natural response to opportunities and threats?
The leaders of a sustainable future are not only aware of their own motives, but also are aware of those of others. In his book, Theory U, Dr. Otto Scharmer shows leaders the way to put effective change processes in motion. The proposition of Theory U is that the quality of results in any kind of socio-economic system is a function of the awareness that people in the system are operating from. Scharmer distinguishes five phases for effective transformational leadership by:
The 'U' stands for the process to follow: firstly ‘dive in deep’, to come up with your insights which, step by step, are then put into action.
By far, the majority of our decisions are made unconsciously. But knowledge of your basic impulses is indispensable to get started as a transformational leader. To be aware of this intrinsic motivation can help to start to loosen your grip, to transfer responsibility. Often that is a big step, but the reward is significant: employees, who are provided with freedom and responsibility, are proven to work more efficiently and effectively. Moreover, they are more satisfied, which leads to lower absenteeism and higher engagement.
Self-knowledge, a listening ear and keen analytical skills are essential qualities for transformational leadership. But actually this is true for everyone. After all, we all live in the VUCA World.
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