Laura Gordon

You may or may not be familiar with the term VUCA but there’s never been a more accurate way to describe today’s world.

Volatile. Uncertain. Complex. Ambiguous.

We’re right in the middle of a perfect storm of uncertainty and there are a myriad of reasons why that is the case.

There’s coronavirus and its impact not only on health but also the global economy.

There’s Brexit of course. The ‘in or out’ bit is decided but now we’re in the transition period there are still many unanswered questions, including those around trade deals and what this will mean for business.

There’s the prospect of another independence referendum for Scotland.

And there’s also the climate emergency, which has never been closer to home as Scotland prepares to host the UN climate summit this year – a summit designed to produce an international response to the emergency.

So just how do business leaders cope with managing change and uncertainty?

There are a variety of models we can refer to for guidance and the first that springs to mind is the Kubler-Ross Change Curve. You may be more familiar with it by its other name, the ‘five stages of grief’.

It looks at the various stages of emotions and, while it might seem like a strange reference tool for the business world, it’s surprisingly relevant.

When businesses undergo change in their management, systems and structure, this can throw up a myriad of emotions – particularly if people have to make personal transitions that involve loss of power or prestige for example, or even simple changes to their working environments.

But by understanding the reactions to change, as a leader, you can better plan for the process.

It’s also important at this stage to put yourself under scrutiny, and to be as objective as possible when you do so.

Take a step back and ask yourself if you’re handling things correctly, if your plan is working, if there are other approaches you can take and look for anything you might be missing.

And crucially make people feel safe. If you have a strong vision and you are providing a secure and safe environment where people feel supported and in good hands, your business has more chance of successfully managing change. It’s important to see someone at the helm with purpose, clarity and passion as this is reassuring.

Kate Marshall is my counterpart in Northern Ireland where she is Vistage Chair, with the role of inspiring executives and helping them navigate change, as well as being an award-winning speaker on leadership.

She believes winning hearts and minds is key when you are leading through uncertainty, and her list of the attributes of real change leaders is spot on.

Full commitment. Courage to challenge the existing power base and the norms. Not fearing failure. Not waiting to lead. Taking personal responsibility to change. Caring about how people are treated. Valuing perspective.

And last but not least, staying undercover. She believes self-promotion in times of change can undermine credibility.

What all of the above tells us is, in an uncertain world – in a ‘VUCA’ world – planning is key.

Our instinctive reaction in a crisis is fight or flight, so a carefully considered plan of action equips us with the tools to face difficulties with confidence and clear thinking.

This, in turn, allows you to provide reassurance and earns the trust and support of those around you.

There has never been a better time to review how you deal with change and uncertainty, adversity and challenge – and when looking back, this will be the true measure of success.

Laura Gordon is a CEO coach and group chair with Vistage International, a global leadership development network for CEOs.