Be the Heroes of the Next Wave: Leading in a VUCA World

How can business leaders and entrepreneurs create a responsive, shock-absorbant culture for the COVID-19 crisis and beyond? You won’t find the answers in the Wall Street Journal, says Chicago Booth professor Greg Bunch. Listen to FinTEx’s webinar discussion with him and entrepreneur Maria Scott of TANIA Technologies on leadership in a VUCA world, moderated by Randy Rivera.

VUCA stands for volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous, an acronym originating with the U.S. Army War College as a descriptor for the post-Cold War environment. Over time, business leaders noticed that VUCA became an increasingly relevant descriptor for the environments their companies were operating in, and co-opted the acronym from the military. Thanks to COVID-19, it’s more clear than ever that VUCA is the name of the game for companies operating in global markets.

But what does a VUCA world actually mean for business leaders? Nate Bennett and G. James Lemoine, writing in the Harvard Business Review, note that VUCA isn’t just a catchall for “the world is unpredictable and can’t be planned for” -- rather, each category represents a specific type of challenge that companies will face (see their article for a great chart breaking down each).

Beyond these specific challenges and responses, there’s specific steps you can take today to make your team more agile, responsive, and VUCA-ready. Writing in Forbes, strategist Sunnie Giles suggests several key steps to transition from outdated assumptions to the complexity of the modern environment, including decentralized, self-organized decision making, democratization of information, and simple rules for decision making. 

Our panelists echoed this in their recommendations and personal experience. To navigate VUCA environments, paradoxically, we should return to “lower tech” solutions -- human staff, for instance, which are a business’ greatest asset, Greg Bunch says. For both leaders, empathy has been key to navigating VUCA: the more closely connected you are to your staff and clients, the better the ideas and solutions you generate will be. Maria often simply asks clients “imagine you had no limitations: how could this work best?” Instead of getting trapped in generic data and complex analyses, go granular: connect with real people.

“Being an entrepreneur is like being a parent, in a lot of ways. You’re constantly adapting to new challenges and never getting it exactly right, but it’s incredibly rewarding. Entrepreneurs will be the heroes of the next wave [of COVID-19] -- they will create new opportunities out of disaster.”

Intrigued by the tips in this article? To hear the rest of our discussion on navigating VUCA during COVID-19 and beyond, listen to the full webinar at


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