Life is Change

"Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next." - Gilda Radner
The late and beloved comedienne Gilda Radner was right.
Seems to me that we are living in highly change-filled times, captured best by the VUCA concept:
Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous
In U.S. military schools, leaders are taught about dealing effectively with VUCA environments.
What can we teach organizational leaders and their teams about this?
Volatility - The word "volatile" carries the meaning "tending to change rapidly and unpredictably, especially for the worse." Something volatile might blow up in your face.
In such situations, the more rapidly things are changing, the more that people feel anxious, afraid and stressed. As Holmes and Rahe taught us decades ago, such volatile change and harmful stress can harm our well-being and even make us sick.
The more change, the more stress, the greater the danger.
What can Managers and their teams do? They need to toughen their change readiness capability to withstand such volatility. This means focusing on resilience, for one thing: the ability to bounce back after a sudden stressful situation.
Uncertainty - In uncertain environments, predictability drops, and surprises rise. In such a climate, planning, organizing, and adaptability take on a critical importance for managers and their teams.
My OD colleague Gil Crosby, in his workshop called "Tough Stuff," teaches managers how to be aware in-the-moment of themselves and others, how to communicate and resolve conflict, and how to use emotional intelligence to maintain healthy team relationships. A formidable approach to be sure.
Complexity - You know you are dealing with complexity when confusion and chaos become the norm. Many of the problems that teams face in today's organizations are truly complex. This means there are no obvious "low hanging fruit" solutions that they can quickly implement. Instead, managers and their teams need to learn new ways to think critically and creatively to solve the dilemmas they face.
Lastly we come to Ambiguity.
When something has two (or more) simultaneous meanings we say it is ambiguous.
Ambiguity = the quality of having or being open to more than one meaning or interpretation (On-line dictionary)
I remember when the first leadership competency models were appearing in organizations back in the 1980's. One of the competency areas identified was Tolerance for Ambiguity.
Tolerance for Ambiguity:   the degree to which an individual is comfortable with uncertainty, unpredictability, conflicting directions, and multiple demands. In essence, tolerance for ambiguity is manifest in a person's ability to operate effectively in an uncertain environment. (from
It was thought that an effective leader is comfortable enough in uncertain environments that she can continue to "charge ahead" and make decisions in the face of multiple and conflicting priorities.
In the midst of chaos, a team needs the mental ability to maintain their "line of sight" toward their objective. Having a clear and compelling sense of purpose ('Where can I do the most good for the business right now?') helps to laser focus on the most pressing priorities.
It has always been true that Life is Change. Nowadays, this statement has taken on a new meaning.
Many years ago I read a wise book called Living With Change by Dr. Wendell Johnson wherein he advocated the use of three questions to achieve and maintain healthy relationships:
What do you mean? - This question helps clarify meaning and achieve understanding.
How do you know? - This question helps uncover assumptions, reveal facts, and discover evidence.
What then? - This question (like its twin "So What?") helps make connections, draw conclusions, and prompt actions.
Johnson's theory was that such questions promote critical thinking and that such an approach to the changes of Life fosters a lifestyle of health and well-being.
Organizations would be wise to stop, face the new facts, and begin to develop the capabilities needed to thrive.
Terrence Seamon helps leaders and teams build their capability. Follow him on twitter @tseamon


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