Key leadership skills for CEO in combatting through the VUCA plus world

Date: April 2020
Author: Subhasakdi Krishnamra and Sakolsri Satityathiwat

Crises are on the rise. Are organizations prepared?  With Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexities and Ambiguity Plus (VUCA+) world, many leading companies are more than ever facing with fast changing environment. To help them navigate through such landscape, we need to address such challenges in smarter ways. 

As we stand several years into cross-industry disruption, driven by technological, regulatory, and competitive forces, we see continuous change in business landscape. Looking back from mid-year of 2019, there were signs of global economic recovery from the decreased in inventories number in many countries and industries, the bustling in industrial production, and trade war between the United States and China began to unwind. However, starting from the beginning of 2020, budget stumbled and the coronavirus outbreak throughout the world causing economic stagnant.

Inevitably, we also face with VUCA+ landscape in Thailand as well. Risks identified by the Bank of Thailand includes the recent coronavirus outbreak causing the decline in tourism revenue, political instability causing the delay in budgeting, drought, which has direct effect on agricultural business. We are facing challenges in all aspects. No one can tell to what extent, how long, and how bad the impact will be. Now more than ever, disruption has gone from episodic to continuous and relentless. We need to assess the situation from various perspectives and take immediate action. The longer we wait, the stronger damage these situations will bring.

These are turbulent times for CEOs. Social upheaval, technological advances, and new generations of workers, among other things, add to their already long list of challenges. To help CEOs navigate the beyond VUCA+ of such landscape, we need to address such challenges in smarter ways. One of which is through strong leadership. Deloitte research suggested that Chief executives of large organizations have the opportunity to thrive, by arming themselves with the skills to be un-disruptable.  Five characteristics leaders viewed as essential aspiration of an un-disruptable CEO includes;

Embrace ambidexterity

One of the key elements for business to survive in VUCA+ landscape is to pursue two different paths that are often seen as complete opposites - cultivating the tension between exploitation and exploration by enhancing current operations and exploring the continually emerging new frontier. This includes ability to excel at both reliable profitability and risky breakthroughs and to seek opportunities that spark radical innovation while simultaneously optimizing existing capabilities. To balance these oppositional elements and embed them in all processes, structures, and cultures will be challenging for CEOs. 

Cultivate emotional fortitude

Emotional fortitude refers to the ability to use fear of the rapidly changing landscape to fuel more productive outcomes, and understand that failure to some extent is inevitable. CEOs need to convey the need for risky – but well conceived – ideas that may or may not work, create the culture where the possibility of failure is embraced and cultivate this element within their companies. 

Encourage a beginner’s mind-set

The concept of “beginner’s mind” where CEOs will need to ask more questions, listen more intently and considering what they hear with less judgement, might not come naturally to them as traditional CEOs normally have the “know it all” attitude as they are expected to know it all. They usually have the confident that comes with experiences. As we cannot rely on the static pattern to predict the future in VUCA+ landscape, the success could indeed depends on knowing what they do not know. The un-disruptable CEO should then learn to be curious, to express curiosity, and having the “eyes” of someone who does not know everything in order to stay vital.


Master disruptive jujitsu

Practicing disruptive jujitsu means to learn from the competition, then deliberately disrupting one’s own business model in order to stay ahead of it. Mastering in disruptive jujitsu would be ideal for how CEOs should handle disruption.  Recognizing threatening disruptions, breaking them into their components, selecting those components that can strengthen their organization, and then finding a way to “hijack” these disruptive elements for their own competitive advantage.

Become the ultimate end-user ethnographer

In the world of disruption, along came technology that changes consumer’s behavior in entirely new ways. Consumers are now online, social, hyper-connected, and overflowed with product knowledge and description. It is now more important than ever for CEOs to gain insight into experience of the ultimate end-user, becoming their most trusted champions by discovering their most subtle habits, desires, and subconscious concerns – to go beyond the consumer’s consciousness. While machine learning and artificial intelligence hold distinct promise for a more granular view of the practices based on large populations of consumers, they are far from a complete solution to this challenge.

These five characteristics lay the groundwork for a new or more nuanced leadership model. To succeed in this VUCA+ world, these elements should be embedded within the newer, emerging role of the CEO. Rather than five isolated factors, mixed use of these characteristics as a whole is recommended. Organization will also need to adapt in order to facilitate this new leadership model.

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