As a leadership coach, I am often asked “What do you think defines a great leader?”  I have answered this question so many times that I thought writing a post about it made sense.  Let start by saying there are a lot of skills that are needed to be a leader, and every person will bring a slightly different flavor of leadership.  However, to me there are two competencies that are absolutely necessary to lead in VUCA conditions.

Speaking your “Why”

Great leaders are able to speak passionately about their purpose and their vision, and they are able to do so at multiple levels.  First, they are clear about why they are doing the work they are doing, and their answer isn’t only about making money (note, making money is fine, but it is not enough to sustain us through VUCA).  Second, they are able to speak to why their team exists, and again it is more than just a statement of what their team does.  They can speak to purpose that really answers the question, “why do we exist?”  At a larger level, they are able to talk about why their organization exists, and they do so in terms of what it does to make their community, nation, world a better place.  At its core, their purpose is about service in some way.

All of the above describes a “purpose-driven” leader, one who is able to speak articulately and inspirationally about their “why.”

Showing Us “The Way”

The second part of this first competency is that great leaders can paint a picture of the future they, their team, and their organization are striving towards.  They articulate a vision of the future while also inviting others on their teams and across their organization to do the same.  This commitment to building shared vision is a critical and often times overlooked need to move groups within VUCA conditions.  As one top executive I worked with once said to me, “It seems like we are all generally heading west here, but I don’t think we all have the same picture of where we are trying to go.”  The leader who emphasizes building shared vision is the leader who will thrive in VUCA.

So, the first competency I see in great leaders is that they are Purposeful and Visionary.

It’s a Team Sport

The second thing I see great leaders do to navigate VUCA is to foster strong team play.  What this means is that they create an environment that is focused on building trust, authentic dialogue, open/respectful conflict, ongoing sharing and receiving of feedback, and diversity of perspectives.  This is not just paying lip service to teamwork and collaboration, but is instead approached as an imperative to get work done in the midst of overwhelming volatility and complexity.

When we are faced with VUCA conditions, the more we can leverage diverse perspectives the greater the chance that great ideas will emerge.  Teams that encourage open dialogue, experimentation, and learning are the teams that do best when VUCA conditions come upon them.

If you can only focus on two things…

There are myriad books, articles, blogs, etc. out there about what constitutes good leadership.  If you want to focus your time and attention on the ones that will result in the greatest ROI, spend time clarifying your purpose and vision, and lean into fostering a team/organizational culture that encourages collaboration and learning together.  In my work with leaders, the ones who prioritize these two competencies are the ones that are most successful and less stressed by the VUCA world.

If you want to learn more about these concepts, I recommend reading The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge and The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni.