When the post-Cold War era ended in the early 1990s, the U.S. Army faced the urgent need to capture the new nature of combat. To do so, they coined a new acronym called VUCA—Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity. It has served them well—and can serve all of us well now. It is more applicable today with the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on the world than it was in the post-Cold War era. Examination will reveal it fits all our leadership issues, needs, and efforts. VUCA is the new normal for the entire world. Wayne Lynn (2020) details how each aspect of VUCA can be applied to leadership:
1. Volatility. COVID-19 has caused everything in our world to change—and it’s changing fast and going faster. It’s not creating a good feeling. It’s making us have new fears. We’re feeling more insecure and vulnerable rather than safe, secure, and confident. It’s easy to make the wrong choice and add to our problems. We are so busy with so many concerns that we feel overloaded but don’t have the time to adjust and leave our vulnerability behind. But the action we need to take is clear. It’s the same action the U.S. Army took in the 1990s. We need to create a picture of the future we want and need to achieve in our schools and keep ourselves and all those we lead focused on our goal. This is the only way to beat the stress that is building up in us and everyone we lead—and everyone’s progress and energy will decrease without this action.
2. Uncertainty. The known is no longer reliable. Nothing is predictable. In fact, we may no longer be able to predict the future based on past events. And without the value of the past, this reality could lead to more problems. Disruptions and change have always existed in schools, but we cannot deal with them like we did in the past. We need to remember that COVID-19 created uncertainty—but as Wayne Lynn (2020) said, “the future doesn’t follow the past like it used to.” Now we need to remember that leadership is a team sport. Our task is to identify and choose the various talents we have in our schools to develop an understanding of what happened and is going to keep happening under the stress of disorientation. Then remember the old fact that stress always builds from lack of trust on the team. Therefore, building trust is our guide. And trust is also created. Your task is threefold:
- Work to build caring and healthy self-concepts with team members by training, supporting, and developing their skills, talents, and achievements.
- Promote and teach by word and deed respect in both communications and actions. The rule: No disrespect toward people or property, including yourself. Not learning, growing, and achieving is disrespect toward self. Make no mistake: Building a foundation of trust is vital to our success in the future.
- Teach and practice the power of “what is possible together” and win-win situations for all. Relationships are the key to curtailing stress, high productivity, and enhancing our success. Win-win situations are a reality and a fact for experiencing high productivity and high satisfaction in all work and in every workplace on earth.
3. Complexity can be one of the biggest generators of stress. Complexity can affect people mentally, emotionally, and physically. It can cause people to give up and quit. Complexity can make people of all ages feel they have lost control. The normal reaction to the feelings of stress is to seek more control—which is what always makes things worse. Our task is to help the team collaborate with each other to determine which forces can and can’t be controlled. It’s this action and clarity that erases most of the stress experienced by students, parents, and educators.
4. Ambiguity is one of the biggest causes for misunderstanding and misreads that bring work and achievement to a halt. “The stress comes in the form of anxiety” (Lynn, 2020). We’ve all seen the results: team paralysis by analysis. Rather than stopping work and achievement, the best leadership counter is promoting innovation, flexible organization, and using individual team member accountability in order to be able to adjust, change, and succeed in the work and mission of the organization.
Lynn, W. (2020, May 11). When VUCA is the new normal. Printing News. https://www.printingnews.com/trade-services/article/21126697/managing-employee-stress-during-the-covid19-crisis