The VUCA Vortex By Ron Frey
Are You in the VUCA Vortex?
The military defines VUCA as Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity – the environment of war. If the year of 2020 has you living in a VUCA Vortex, I have two encouraging thoughts for you:
- You can turn the VUCA experience into a positive force, and
- Don’t go it alone.
We are all living and leading in times of rapid and unpredictable change. This volatility can cause you to constantly feel off balance and out of control. You love to lead when things are predictable and stable, but 2021 and beyond could bring even greater change and instability.
The counterpoint to Volatility is Vision.
Leaders need to clarify what is possible and then stay the course. In the late 1980’s Konoshuke Matsushita, the founder of Matsushita Electric Company, was asked whether he was concerned about the recent losses his firm was sustaining. His reply, “No, everything is on schedule.” When asked how long his schedule extended, he replied, “250 years!” He had a vision of his firm for ten, 25-year periods, and his short-term losses were not a worry to him in light of his long-term vision. If we keep our perspective on God’s long-term plans, everything is right on schedule.
It’s not just the rapid-fire changes coming at you, it’s the unpredictability of when and how they come. The upset of your normal routines ranges from inconvenient to traumatizing. If you need certainty about the future, these are very anxious and upsetting times. As a leader, how can you bring stability and hope to your team?
In times of Uncertainty, lead with Understanding.
Proverbs 15:21 says,
“Folly delights a man who lacks judgement, but a man of understanding keeps a straight course.”
I’ve been inspired by Jim Blake, the Executive Director of Alliance Redwoods Conference Grounds, a Christian camp ministry in Sonoma County, California. Talk about uncertainty – they’ve had fire evacuations, COVID-19 shut downs, and a host of other problems, yet they are one of the only camps still open and serving because he stayed on course toward his goal. His motto this year is, “If we’re going to go down, we’ll go down serving.” The best way through times of uncertainty is to be relentless toward your goal. Jim understood that it was time to press in to the bigger vision and take calculated risks, rather than to fold up shop and wait for a better time. His decisive action has paid off.
The world is increasingly convoluted and confusing. The values, beliefs and assumptions you have about the nature of reality are challenged by a culture that wants to deconstruct them. As a ministry leader, you may face a whole new set of rules (or laws) in the way you interact with clients, customers, beneficiaries and stakeholders. How can you effectively navigate this complex world?
Complexity and confusion must be countered with Clarity.
People need leaders who are clear about where the organization is going and how it will get there. When King Hezekiah was surrounded by the Asyrian army and facing complete annihilation, he clearly commanded the people not to answer the enemy. Instead, he went to the temple to pray. God’s answer through the prophet Isaiah was clear, and the subsequent victory was decisive (II Kings 18-19). A coherent, intelligible plan of action will give your team a path to run on.
Ambiguity can feel as if you’re driving in the fog where misreading your current situation and the mixed messages of those around you can derail your best efforts.
The answer to ambiguity is Adaptability or Agility – the quality of being able to adjust to new conditions yet still stay on the road.
Virtually every ministry has had to pivot from live events or face to face ministry to digital communication platforms. But I’ve heard story after story of how this pivot has advanced their work, from churches that see thousands of people attending their Sunday morning online services, to high responsiveness to the gospel from homeless men and women, to the generosity of donors who give online. If you feel that 2021 will bring more ambiguity, you’re probably right. “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” Proverbs 16:9. You can only act on what you know, so do the right thing, and then let God work things out.
You can turn your negative VUCA into positive VUCA (Vision, Understanding, Clarity and Adaptability) as you ask the Lord for wisdom to carry you through each storm. But don’t go through your VUCA Vortex alone.
You’ll need the encouragement of others. Here are four practical reminders that may help.
- Confide in a coach or a counselor who can help you deal with your doubts, provide encouragement and help you reframe negative VUCA into positive VUCA.
- Make it a team effort. Harness your team’s giftedness and wisdom to define what positive VUCA means to you and your organization.
- Seek out the encouragement and perspective of your peers who may face a similar situation. Learn how God is working in their lives and organizations. It may strengthen your faith.
- Build an advisory team of godly men and women who will bring positive perspectives regarding the situation you are in.
Ron Frey is president of Frey Resource Group, a strategic and creative consulting firm that helps non-profit organizations inspire joyful generosity and achieve extraordinary success in fundraising. He has trained and consulted with hundreds of organizations on branding, donor communications, major gifts, foundation grants and capital campaigns.
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