Now’s the Time for VUCA Leadership

Dave Kilby

Think about it…acronyms…I’m not a big fan and sometimes I get “lost”—especially in the government alphabet soup—but acronyms are everywhere.

In our daily emails we constantly see LOL or OMG.

And thanks to the pandemic, we’re now all familiar with PPE, PPP and the CDC.

Let me add another acronym to your lexicon—VUCA—which stands for V – Volatility, U – Uncertainty, C – Complexity and A – Ambiguity

There are many words, phrases, adjectives and acronyms to describe 2020—and I think VUCA has to be one of them.

While VUCA first surfaced back in the ’80s during the Cold War era, it’s resurfacing to apply to how we view the current “whitewater” conditions in which we must live, plan, problem solve and make decisions.


VUCA components are:

• V – Volatility: We’re all dealing with an extremely fast rate of change and often there aren’t any clear trends, patterns or guidelines.

• U – Uncertainty: Hyper-disruptive change, with little or no predictability—not only is the present often “foggy”—we have no idea what’s next.

• C – Complexity: With more key decision factors to consider…it’s NOT easy.

• A – Ambiguity: Lack of clarity about what is real and true—what might be today…might not be or isn’t tomorrow.

Moving On

So…if that’s the world we’re living in…VUCA—Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous…NOW WHAT?

Some of my recent conversations with chamber professionals have quickly morphed from VUCA (OMG) times to VUCA leadership.

Let’s try these VUCA leadership components on for size:

• V – Visionary: The importance of having everyone driven toward a common vision…working as a team on an agreed-upon game plan.

• U – Understanding: The need to reach out and embrace different perspectives beyond our own “neighborhood” or “tribe.” This is where our role as a “Convener of leaders and influencers to get things done” can be showcased.

• C – Clarity: Involves being laser focused and having clear potential outcomes and processes.

• Or C – Courage: Being bold and willing to risk.

A Once again, I couldn’t decide—Agility or Adaptability: The world is moving so fast that nimbleness and flexibility are, now more than ever before, definitely part of the new leadership mantra. Five-year plans are “out.” While goals are definitely needed and important, quarterly or six-month action plans seem more realistic.

Embracing New Ideas

The best chambers have been quick to embrace VUCA leadership.

They didn’t sit back and wait for things to “return to normal”—they made some extremely tough (and major) decisions. They changed paths. They embraced new ideas—many of which weren’t even thought of or part of your chamber’s culture back in February 2020—a.k.a. “the good old days.”

Now more than ever…it’s time to do yourself and your chamber a favor. Avoid BDCP—brain dead chamber programming. Get more focused, consider new pathways and, if you haven’t already done so, practice VUCA leadership.

Stay safe and stay strong.

Dave Kilby is president and CEO of W.A.C.E. and executive vice president of corporate affairs at the California Chamber.