4 X 4 Tips for VUCA Leaders: Just Listen

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The acronym VUCA describes difficult framework conditions for corporate management. VUCA executives are responsible for these problems themselves. How do you best deal with them? Best of HR – Berufebilder.de®

Here writes for you:


Marco Mancesti is the R&D director at IMD and a graduate of the HPL programs.


Managers with VUCA characteristics

What does VUCA have to do with leadership? The acronym for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity is used to describe or reflect general conditions and situations, not people.

Still, we all came across executives who trigger VUCA, or worse - they have VUCA characteristics themselves!

3 dependencies on executives

Because executives can not orchestrate in a vacuum. In fact, they depend on at least three important types of others:

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  1. Leaders lead, they do not perform. Therefore, they rely on others to take care of the implementation.
  2. Leaders can not be everywhere. That's why they rely on others to get information.
  3. Executives "don't know what they don't know." That is why they count on loyal supporters for feedback.

4 Characteristics: How to recognize VUCA executives

How do we recognize VUCA executives? 4 typical characteristics:

  1. Usually, the durability of their decisions is brief: they might say white in one day, gray next, black next. They praise one day and express doubts on another day.
  2. It's hard to understand the order of their decisions. The same situation can produce different responses at different times, often without a proactive explanation. You could say one thing to a person and have a different version for another person.
  3. VUCA leaders are not always explicit in their instructions and in the definition of those responsible; They sometimes expect results without necessarily providing the means to succeed.
  4. They tend to avoid communication with the team and prefer one-to-one interviews. When they acknowledge the success, it is sometimes ambiguous, but they can quickly blame it publicly.

Typical problems with VUCA executives

You have the impression that they have spoken out on a particular problem, but as you contemplate, you find that they have not quite done so, and you face dilemmas and uncertainty. Does this sound familiar to you?

Obviously, there are different positions along the VUCA leader scale. At the top we find toxic leaders. They manipulate consciously; they are dangerous not only to the people who report to them, but also to the entire organization.

The triple shutdown effect

But the scale covers a whole range, and to a certain extent, all executives have their VUCA moments.

The problem is that they do not necessarily realize that they hurt themselves when they trigger a so-called triple shutdown effect. This is when their own behavior begins to work against their interests by negatively affecting what they need most of others:

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  1. Execution: If there is a culture of fear in the organization, if there is no confidence that it is safe to apply the maxim “to do the right thing when in doubt”, then in the end the employees will only do what is required and details need to execute. Just as websites stop working when they are flooded with multiple simultaneous denial-of-service requests, this dynamic can paralyze executives. In a successful environment, managers are supported by clever and responsible execution in the organization. They have empowered colleagues to adapt their actions to the context while maintaining the overall direction.
  2. Information: If employees are not recognized as they type in, if they are not told what data is useful, and why, if they do not understand how decisions are made, then at some point they will not know what they can do and they will stop To provide information. This blinds their leaders. In a successful environment, leaders get the right information at the right time to make the right decisions. They have colleagues who proactively collect and deliver insightful data that is modulated according to changes in context.
  3. Feedback: The fire is burning, but there is no smoke! That's a pretty common situation; Everyone talks about how bad the leader is, but no one dares to help. Often, leaders only get positive feedback about their actions and decisions because they unconsciously reward them. When executives are rude or dismissive, when supporters try to give input, these peers will turn off feedback - why bother? In fact, the leaders become deaf. In a successful environment, managers are warned in good time. They have colleagues who are not afraid to provide direct and sometimes hard input to tackle a situation long before it becomes critical.

4 tips against VUCA problems

An executive who somehow tolerates the triple shutdown effect becomes paralyzed, blind and deaf. From a business point of view, this is deadly over time. Four recommendations to prevent this can be summarized in the reminder ROCK.

  1. Respect: In most teams the members have good intentions, are competent and do their best. If they do not do that, it's more a management error than a mistake of their own. If they disagree about something, it's not for fun. Therefore, respect for team members' experiences, ideas, and opinions, personality, and private life outside of work (which may have its own challenges) is central.
  2. Openness: "What if you're right?" This mental reaction to the subordinate's input shows intellectual openness, humility and concrete recognition that collective thinking is stronger than individual considerations. Openness is also about being curious, allowing experiments, and allowing mistakes (assuming it is learned). Last but not least, it means accepting feedback and being really grateful for it.
  3. Coherence: The quest for coherence does not mean that leaders should be predictable or rigid. This means that while they should constantly adapt to the context, they should do so in accordance with the communicated, overarching intentions. If the strategy changes, it needs to be explained again. But that's not all: part of the culture of an institution is defined by the worst behavior tolerated without sanction. Managers need to be aware of this and avoid the mistake of applying different standards depending on length of service or constituency. I once with one Company worked that fired a very high manager because of “misalignment with corporate values”; that's exactly how it was communicated. After that, I saw no significant behavioral problems in this organization.
  4. Knowledge: This is about continuous competence building. Investing in the skills of employees, both hard and soft, sends out a strong message that leaders take care of people beyond their immediate business needs. This point is particularly noticeable in the current era of digital disruption. Do leaders wait for people to become obsolete and then fire, or do they proactively train people to ensure that they continue to create relevant values? But it's not just about giving opportunities to other people; When leaders work on themselves, they signal that they have enough humility to acknowledge their own weaknesses and to constantly improve. Excellence is at the center of interest.

The ability to listen

The enabler of ROCK is the ability to listen. The inclusion of contributions from others shows respect. In addition, leaders can only be open and coherent if they proactively look for other viewpoints; they can empower themselves and their employees to succeed if they are willing to hear what colleagues or even people outside their own organization are saying.

The good news is that a good job of avoiding the triple shutdown can lead to a threefold increase: increasing your execution skills, increasing decision-making, and increasing the leader's influence on the organization. In fact, accepting feedback shows that the leader has been working to improve his own self-esteem. And that is an important part of the leadership.

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  1. Jörg Ziegler

    Listening is a very underrated skill!

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