Leading the Dynamic between Volatility and Vision

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    Darcy,[i] a VP in a large pharmaceutical company, began using VUCA and VUCA Prime when she faced an unexpected regulatory issue. Now she uses it daily to make sense of her constantly shifting world. Our conversations are peppered with: “Let’s VUCA this.”, “He is reacting personally, but it is just VUCA.”, and “I need to get to VUCA Prime fast on this one.” Darcy views her knowledge and comfort with VUCA ∞ VUCA Prime as a leadership strength that helps her navigate a company that is constantly in motion, reorganization and downsizing, and an industry that is consolidating rapidly. In the Volatile world of global connectivity, where interdependencies lurk in the shadows, Vision is much more than a rallying cry.

    When Volatility hits, leaders steeped in tradition head for the weeds and try to problem-solve their way out. But in today’s world, it’s easy to get lost there. The last five to six business books I have picked up all start with comments on the death of Scientific Management and the “brave new world” of 21st century leadership. We long for the days when strategy lasted for years and budgets were stable from one cycle to the next. While we can’t throw out prediction, there is less and less that is truly predictable.

    Vision in response to Volatility is more than an exercise. It is how you get out of the weeds, come up for air, and steer toward the horizon. Incorporating constant exploration and imagination, Vision becomes a counterbalance to Volatility. On the other hand, Vision that is vague or without just enough structure is Volatility in dangerous disguise.

    The group Darcy leads is globally dispersed and multifunctional. She is accountable for integrating R&D, clinical development, and regional marketing. Volatility in her world is often generated by the system itself. Consider the following:

    • The results of multiple interdependent global clinical trials create multifaceted dilemmas (a both/and/and/and… situation)
    • In-market drugs have regional differences with respect to indication, marketing, regulatory requirements, and opinion leader input – what is tactically appropriate in one region may be counterproductive in another
    • Team members are functionally co-located and constantly struggle to overcome the Volatility of an internal Us/Them mindset relative to their distant colleagues

    When Volatility hits, Darcy’s first action is to step back and explore how this event, or set of events, directionally impacts the course she has set. Vision for her is more like sailing toward a point on the horizon that forever recedes, pulling her forward. When Vision is understood by the whole, then interdependent movement of the parts can be coordinated. Darcy finds that Vision provides “just enough” structure and process for her organization to balance prediction and exploration. Using Vision as a rudder, she constantly navigates between rigidity-prediction (too much stability) and turbulence-exploration (too much Volatility). Recently she faced a situation in which she introduced Volatility to break up a rigid mindset that was holding a team back. As the team explored options and opportunities, she learned her way forward, using Volatility and Vision alternately to maintain creative tension and lead the team toward a self-generated, productive outcome.

    Inquiry for Leaders

    • How much Volatility are you comfortable with? What is your reaction when you are outside your comfort zone? How does this affect your ability to lead when Volatility strikes?
    • How much structure and process does your current Vision provide? Too much? Too little? How easy is it for you to revise your Vision, to adapt it to Volatility when it arises without creating a moving target?
    • Where in your organization do you need more Volatility? Vision? How can you introduce and manage these? Where is Volatility happening naturally? Have you harnessed that energy to drive your Vision forward?

    Next Blog Post

    Leading the dynamic between Uncertainty and Understanding.


    [i] For confidentiality purposes all examples have been modified.

    Cairn Consultants integrates business and biology to offer clients novel tools and methods for adaptive change, leadership, and organizational effectiveness. Carol is also a founding member of Knowesys, an international leadership and change consultancy.

    Dr. Carol Mase

    President | Cairn Consultants
    Carol@CairnLLC.com | 215.262.6666

    www.CairnConsultants.com | www.Knowesys.com

    Skype: carol.mase