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Coaching (leading) in a VUCA World

2019 was a very challenging year for most, it was a year of highs and lows – made so by the increasing volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of the current global context – now referred to as VUCA. This enormous instability has caused many to shrink into old fear driven survival patterns. Where most people are experiencing the pain of this radical change, yet not understanding the nature of it, and this is why it is more important now than ever before to lead people in understanding the nature of this change in order to re-establish hope.

Human consciousness is on the brink of a major evolution, prompted by the growing complexity of our world and the need for us to adapt not only our thinking but how we think. This is the shift from first order thinking to second order thinking, or from linear Newtonian thinking to non-linear Einsteinian thinking. It is about understanding that everything in our world, from relationships to business, economics to our environment, is all in a complex state of continual change. It is organic, these are “living systems”.

While Capitalism is crumbling due to its failure to address some significant ecological challenges such as poverty and sustainability, Socialism, partly the response to some of these failures, also has intrinsic flaws such as being an inhibitor of progress. Spiral Dynamics provides a great model for understanding the emerging synthesis of these two world views, (neither of which takes into account the growing complexity of our world), whilst incorporating nonlinear complexity thinking – this is second order thinking.

What does first order thinking look like?

First order thinking is measuring business success by focusing solely on the bottom line. It is about rewarding people for hitting their targets without understanding the impact of the often toxic behaviours we are rewarding on culture, trust and engagement. It is about manipulation in the name of getting a bigger piece of the pie, stemming from an underlying fear of lack and limitation. It is a linear pipeline mentality, the more we push in the more we get out. It is about missing the intangible value of human interaction, compassion, trust and engagement. It is about measuring productivity by how busy we are or how hard we work. It is about considering oneself a leader just because you have a leadership position, then using that position for self gain.

What does second order thinking look like?

Second order thinking is about going beyond the reductionistic and mechanistic mindset, and being present and “available” enough to tune into the subtleties of human experience. It is about holistically seeing business as living entities where engagement, trust, compassion and culture are considered some of the most vital drivers of sustainable success. It is about self reflection, understanding your natural strengths, then meaningfully collaborating with others to generate inspired and holistic solutions to real world problems. It is about realizing that leadership is dynamic and not static – sometimes we lead, sometimes we follow. And having the wisdom and sensitivity to know when, by being present enough to notice when a leadership moment opens up. It is about staying open and seeing with new eyes without overlaying past meaning on new situations. It is about tuning into our own intuitions and then acting on them. It is about holism and sustainability.

What does this all mean?

We are living through highly transformative times, the experience of which is often chaos. However from within this seeming chaos is a new emerging order, this is known as Chaordic. By understanding the nature of this current and radical change we can begin the find hope in realizing that the world is not breaking, just the world as we have known it. The good news is that as the old models and paradigms enter their final death throws, they make space for the new. And with quantum leaps in our collective thinking combined with our rapid technological advancements, I believe we will solve some of the biggest challenges facing humanity. I see a vision of the future where poverty is eradicated, access to information and education is available to everyone, and machines take over routined work allowing more time and space for meaningful human interaction, compassion and creativity.

As leaders we must embrace this shift and begin to see the emerging order through the chaos so we can lead others towards an empower future. We must prioritize the often disregarded and intangible aspects of human experience such as engagement and culture. We must prioritize the building of trust by always making the needs of others at least as important as our own, we must offer compassion where it is needed and create stability by helping people trust in their own strengths, and ultimately we must generate hope by holding an inspiring vision for ourselves and others.

Who must lead?

Each and everyone of us must lead when those leadership moments open up. Because leadership is dynamic and not static, and because we are human beings and are not perfect.