Is Your VUCA External or Internal?

Whew!  The past seven months has been a pretty chaotic time in Washington and across the globe with almost more dramatic episodes of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) than we can count.  I am pretty sure that the Hollywood screenplay writers and reality TV show producers have more material than they can use for several seasons.  If the potential consequences and implications of this global VUCA vortex were not so daunting with somewhat impetuous leaders in North Korea, Russia and beyond – one might imagine a surreal, Sci-Fi-tinged spy thriller coming to theaters in early 2018.  Let’s hope it does not continue to play out with that kind of drama.

VUCA is that term coined at the US Army War College in the late 1990’s  and is precisely descriptive of the global operating context.  The reality is that there are “layers” of VUCA operating all the time. For example, the Global VUCA layer has its dynamics, consequences, influences and implications – so does your Regional and Local VUCA spheres.  This is intrinsically part of the VUCA vortex and adds to the total complexity factor that leaders and organizations must encounter and navigate.

There is another very impactful dimension to the VUCA equation – your “INTERNAL” VUCA! As we work with clients around the world, we often see significant amounts of VUCA created INSIDE the organization that compounds and exasperates the EXTERNAL VUCA factors – creating a HYPER-VUCA condition … CHAOS indeed.  Sometimes these internal VUCA factors are deep-seeded in the organization’s culture and can range from hard-riveted silos, steadfast holding onto “the way we have always done it” stubbornness, inadequate and often inaccurate information platforms or aberrant leadership behavior demeaning organizational spirit and values.

There are many sources of internal VUCA that often show up in THE VUCA REPORT™ pulse surveythat we have been tracking for two years as well our ORGANIZATIONAL AGILITY PROFILE™.  These are called out as people, process or technology obstacles that inhibit better and faster nimbleness and adaptability … aka your agility.  Some of these obstacles are chronic and have been around a long time.  Others are newly sprouted as the speed of business accelerates and can cause spontaneous chaos for those who do not anticipate change well.  We invite you to take THE VUCA REPORT™ survey yourself and share your experiences and perspectives along with the almost 1,000 others who have so far.

We are operating in a world filled with consequences and high performance expectations.  The impact of time compression where daily expectations are for faster results and decisions combined with the reality that “the way we used to do it” is becoming obsolete at warp speed – conspire to freeze and paralyze those who are FRAGILE and sets the table for those who are AGILE.  Darwin actually said its about “survival of the most adaptable”.  You will find many tools and insights throughout our website to help you move from the fragile zone to the agile zone.

There are numerous examples of organizations becoming stymied by their own Internal VUCA.  UBER is a recent example of a darling company with seemingly magic touch … then spiraled into whirlpool of internal VUCA around leadership behavior.  Certainly the high profile scandals at ENRON, WorldCom and Lehmann Brothers represented out of control internal VUCA.  Unfortunately, there has been significant amounts of Internal VUCA impacting the effectiveness and agenda at the White House and Congress.  Hopefully, the appointment of General Kelly this week will bring an experienced leader very familiar with all forms of VUCA along with the leadership acumen and discipline to minimize internal VUCA and help build better and faster capabilities to get important things accomplished.  As in any organizations, internal VUCA distracts and undermines organizational performance.

As many of you begin your 2018 business planning cycles, it is an excellent time to examine and evaluate your forces of change and the VUCA impacting your success.  What are those External VUCA factors that you must face and overcome?  What are those INTERNAL VUCA factors that may be undermining and sapping your energy, resources and focus?  Take a look at our ORGANIZATIONAL AGILITY PROFILE™ and work with your leadership team on these questions.  I will be interested in how the conversation flow progresses.  Always remember, as my partner Mike Richardson says … the right conversation flow leads to cash flow!

Love to get your feedback and perspectives on your sources of INTERNAL VUCA and what you are doing.

On Human Connection, Vulnerability and Leadership

On Human Connection, Vulnerability and Leadership

Years ago, as a young junior officer in the U.S. Navy, a few hundred of my peers and I shuffled into a large auditorium to hear an admiral speak. I don’t remember his name or his title. But I remember one phrase, one nugget of “wisdom” that he provided. 

He said, “Leaders are people who know stuff.” 

At the time this seemed like a simple, yet compelling insight. And it’s certainly the case that one source of people’s power and influence over others can be their expertise. In many situations, we follow those people who know the most (or at least seem to know the most) about how to solve problems. 

We also tend to follow people who have definitive answers. People who are decisive, outspoken, direct. 

But such tendencies grossly oversimplify the heart of leadership and what it means to connect with our fellow humans. 

The implication of treating leaders and leadership as being about “knowing stuff” is that to be a leader, you need to have all of the answers. You need to know more than the people you’re trying to lead. And your knowledge, therefore, gives you the right to tell those people what to do. 

Sorry, admiral, but this conceptualization of leadership is as sophisticated as my 3.5 year-old son—whom I caught wiping his nose on the couch cushion yesterday. 

Clearly, 

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What’s Your “To-Don’t” List?

What’s Your “To-Don’t” List?

Some people really like to create lists. Often, these take the form of things “to do.” Some people even get such satisfaction from crossing items off of their to-do lists that if they accomplish something that wasn’t on their list, they’ll write it down and immediately cross it off. 

Know anyone who does that? (Sometimes, that’s me. I’ll admit it.) 

These types of lists are great. They help us stay apprised of what needs to happen in various parts of our lives, both professionally and personally. My weekly to-do list helps me immensely in providing structure to my week. 

But there’s another kind of list that can be helpful. It’s one that can be particularly helpful for those whose work has reached a level of complexity that’s overwhelming, a level of busyness that’s forcing them to do everything at a level of mediocrity that’s highly dissatisfying. 

That list is

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The Courage to be Agile and Pivot

The Courage to be Agile and Pivot

My morning routine gives me comfort. I get up at the exact same time almost every day. My coffee maker is set to turn on 15 minutes earlier, so I go downstairs, pour my coffee and fill my 1-liter water bottle. I then head to my home office and get oriented for the day’s activities. 

After about 40 minutes, my coffee cup and water bottle are empty. Then, it’s time to get ready for some exercise. That lasts for about an hour, after which comes the remainder of my tasks to prepare for the day prior to the stampede of our four soon-to-awaken children. 

And so on. 

These are comfortable routines; they are generally productive habits. 

But sometimes habits can become too comfortable. We can stick to routines for the sake of sticking to the routine—when in fact, change is necessary. 

For example, 

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Sometimes, Be Less Predictable

Sometimes, Be Less Predictable

“I’m going to leave the room. When I come back, you will each need to be able to introduce five of your classmates to me.

"You have five minutes, starting now.”

This is frequently how I start a class at its first meeting of the semester. Sometimes, but not always, I stick my head back in the classroom after a minute or so if I don’t hear robust conversation and yell, “Get talking! You have three more minutes!”

The outcome is predictable. It’s a breath of energy and fun that kicks off the semester in a wonderful way. 

But the action itself is certainly not predictable. And that’s part of why it works.

Most of the time, 

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Your Most Precious Resource

Your Most Precious Resource

I recently heard someone quote a deceptively insightful short poem. Titled, “How did it get so late so soon,” it’s one of many gems penned by the late Theodor Geisel, and here it is. 

"How did it get so late so soon?
It’s night before it’s afternoon.
December is here before it’s June.
My goodness how the time has flewn.
How did it get so late so soon?"

Geisel, more commonly known as Dr. Seuss, captures here the feeling that I get frequently when I think about seasons ending, new years beginning and everyone (including me) aging. 

It’s not just about nostalgia; it’s not just about how even a 100-year lifetime is but a flash in the course of history. 

It’s more than that. 

It’s about how there’s one thing

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LEADERSHIP … THE CAPACITY TO TRANSLATE VISION INTO REALITY!

This timeless, succinct definition of leadership is one of the many pearls of wisdom Warren Bennis has shared over the years.  No doubt, there are many dimensions, skills and nuances about leadership inspiration, intelligence, skills and insights packed into the phrase and required to “translate vision into reality”.  Most great leaders that I have observed have a noticeably superior skill at articulating, in very authentic manner, their vision for the enterprise and what it means for all of us in real, tangible and inclusive ways. The truly extraordinary leaders also have the situational intelligence to help each team recognize their role in the success equation, feel the gravitas of their contribution and create the unity of focused, fast and flexible teams throughout the organization.  These are some of the central elements in our notion of Leadership Agility … which FORBES declared as the “defining ingredient in next generation leadership”.

 

 

THE BIG QUESTION … is how you can tell if your leaders are having meaningful IMPACT with their organizations and whether there is any correlation between the capabilities of your leaders and the competitive capabilities displayed by your business teams, divisions or the overall enterprise?  Many of our clients appreciate being able to draw this correlation when they conduct both the ORGANIZATIONAL AGILITY PROFILE (OAP) and our LEADERSHIP AGILITY PROFILE 360 (LAP).  Both of these assessments provide multi-rater summary perspectives to assess critical organizational and leadership behaviors using our research-based agility framework … THE AGILE MODEL®.

Below is a sample AGILITY HEATMAP that is one of the diagnostic tools we use in our Organizational Agility Profile.  You can see how the HEATMAP highlights key differences between business units, job levels as well as between functions, company tenure, geographic regions and other organizational dimensions.

The perspective becomes even more insightful as leaders can compare their own Leadership Agility Profile as well as the individual profiles of their leadership teams in comparison to the overall profile of the business unit or function.  We tend to find high correlations in areas like decision-making, engagement and with bias for action and innovation.

Importantly, it enables a very potent conversation about the relationship of individual capabilities in agile leadership and the corresponding team or organizational profile.  Here is a sample LAP SPYDERGRAM  that is one of the illustrations in our LAP 360 report.  Whether using our tools or other quality instruments, it is important to bridge the conversation between leadership and organizational impact.  It is often very hard because of the revolving door and movement of leaders in and out or across organizations.

Each of the 15 Agile Capabilities leads to real and meaningful business building outcomes. Having just recently gone in for my annual physical, I had many diverse diagnostic and insightful assessments about my overall health … blood pressure, EKG, blood work along with the occasional x-ray as needed.  As my doc reviewed all of these findings with me, I got a clear picture of my overall health and indications of the areas where I needed to pay more attention.

In many respects, that is what our OAP and LAP does for our clients when part of a regular “check-up” … annually or bi-annually to check in on the organizational health and agility drivers. With all the health consciousness dominating our personal lives – makes good sense to apply some of the same good thinking to our organizations and leaders.  I would love to get your thoughts and perspectives also – what is working for you?

What LeBron James Gets About Leading in Adversity

What LeBron James Gets About Leading in Adversity

Both the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers and their opponents in the 2016 NBA finals, the Golden State Warriors, are extraordinary professional basketball teams. 

But on Thursday, June 16, the Cavaliers became only the third team in history to come back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA finals to force a seventh game in the series. Clearly, Cavaliers star LeBron James is central to their performance. They’re one win away from taking the championship, but even if they don’t win, there are some interesting insights we can take away from how James has led his team in the midst of adversity.

Most of the time, we have little insight into what happens behind the scenes within professional sports teams. Or when we do, it might be well after the fact, from memoirs of players, coaches or confidants. 

The case of the 2016 Cavaliers is different. 

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Leadership is a Game of Inches

Leadership is a Game of Inches

The 1999 movie Any Given Sunday tells the story of a fictional American football team, with much of the focus on the team’s head coach. To be honest, I don’t remember much about the plot aside from one scene.

In that scene, the coach, played by the actor Al Pacino, delivers a speech to his team. He says:

“You know, when you get old in life things get taken from you. I mean that's, that’s—that’s part of life. But you only learn that when you start losing stuff. You find out life’s this game of inches. So is football. Because

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PROLOGUE FROM THE MASTERS: WHAT IS YOUR BIG MISS WITH AGILITY?

PROLOGUE FROM THE MASTERS: WHAT IS YOUR BIG MISS WITH AGILITY?

For those of us who enjoy watching and occasionally playing golf … we have a new image for the AGONY OF DEFEAT … Jordan Spieth in despair on the 12th hole of the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Georgia last week.  It was very painful to watch as this very talented wonderkid of golf had a momentary melt down that ended up costing him sure victory and another coveted Green Jacket.  It was another reminder of how FRAGILE and elusive success can be sometimes … especially when we lose focus for just that split second. There is no doubt that Jordan will take lessons from this painful moment and come back stronger and tougher than ever. That is what true champions and agile leaders do…learn from adversity to become better.

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What 280 Executives Said They Face

What 280 Executives Said They Face

Turbulence ahead.

That’s one key message I learned while writing the inaugural issue of The VUCA Report™, which outlines findings from an ongoing study I’m spearheading here through The Strategic Agility Institute.

This study essentially focuses on two elements: (a) the forces of change that executives face and (b) what they’re doing about it. We were fortunate to have had 280 responses 

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Start With the Answer: Authentic Leadership

Start With the Answer: Authentic Leadership

A few weeks ago, I had a very special opportunity that refilled my enthusiasm tank for promoting real, authentic leadership.  Have you ever had the privilege of working with someone who fully exemplified the kind of role model leader that the heavy weights in leadership literature write about?  Hopefully many of you can answer affirmatively to that question and are recalling some of the best moments in those memories.  Unfortunately, not all leaders-in-the making today have that privilege and even fewer are able to get the kind of personal mentoring that happened once upon a time when things were not quite as frenetic, turbulent before LEVEL 5 VUCA became a norm. 

My replenishing moment took place up in Wilton, CT where I was conducting a

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Jam Your Way to Creativity, Community and Transcendence

Jam Your Way to Creativity, Community and Transcendence

“Jamming experiences are worthy of study because they are an often ecstatic way of balancing autonomy and interdependence in organizing. As such, they offer a different route, other than reciprocal disclosure, to community.” (Eisenberg, 1999, p. 139)

Upon reading that for the first time in 2007, I—along with several of my fellow doctoral classmates at The University of North Carolina at Charlotte—concluded that the author was probably—no, most certainly—high. 

Such sentences, we thought at the time, were likely only constructed under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs. 

But before long,

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Leading Change and the Distribution of Loss

Leading Change and the Distribution of Loss

When I talk or facilitate a workshop with business leaders, making them all really sad isn’t part of the agenda.

But sometimes it’s exactly what they need. At least for a few minutes.

In particular, there’s an aspect of leadership that always requires emotional awareness. And when we attempt to lead change, there’s always an element of loss. When we lead change, people often have to alter their routines, give up responsibilities and work with new people—all factors that are different from what used to be life as usual.

That can make people

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The Irony and Urgency of HR

The Irony and Urgency of HR

Leadership Agility is becoming a business imperative for an organization's leadership talent as well as the transformation of the Human Resources function.  My colleague, Gruffie Clough, and I had the fortune to recently interview Ben Hill, the VP of Talent Management for TURNER, about his company's talent challenges and solutions now and in the future.

AS A TURNER LEADER, WHICH ASPECT OF TALENT MANAGEMENT IN THIS VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) BUSINESS ENVIRONMENT IS MOST CHALLENGING?

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The Cure for Leadership Narcosis™ in a VUCA World

The Cure for Leadership Narcosis™ in a VUCA World

Have you experienced Leadership Narcosis™?

Leadership Narcosis™ is a term I use to describe the adverse leadership behavior and associated disruptive organizational impact of a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world on leaders today and into the future.  

From my experience as a former U.S. Navy officer in special operations and as a current organizational psychologist, the behavioral reactions for divers experiencing nitrogen narcosis are quite similar to the behaviors exhibited by leaders with what I refer to as Leadership Narcosis™. 

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The Secret to Matrix Organization Success

The Secret to Matrix Organization Success

The very thought of matrix structures makes some people sigh and roll their eyes. There’s no question that matrix organizations can be challenging to navigate. But with a good dose of leadership agility, you can make a matrix succeed.

What is a Matrix?

To begin, a matrix is 

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How an Artist Captured the Essence of VUCA and Talent Management Agility

How an Artist Captured the Essence of VUCA and Talent Management Agility

I was asked to deliver a keynote presentation complemented by an executive panel discussion on "Leadership in a Dynamic World" at the annual Investment Program Association (IPA) Conference in Chicago this past week.  

Oh, I might also add that the audience of about 350 direct investment professionals were also engaged throughout the session through the use of handheld rating devices that enabled immediate analysis of the questions asked of them.  This was a daunting task since I was to be followed by Austan Goolsbee, former Chief of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors.  

Therefore, 

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