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The Changing Requirements for Leaders in a VUCA World

The Demands of The VUCA World (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex And Ambiguous)

The present economic, social, and business context is redefining what successful leadership looks like and refocusing on the requirement for a new set of competencies that will enable leaders to succeed in a VUCA world. We live in truly exceptional times and face challenges that can’t be overcome with the past leadership styles. We must find answers on how leaders can and will succeed in this VUCA world. These unprecedented times require outstanding leaders who can lead effectively and flourish in a volatile environment. It is no longer acceptable for businesses to tolerate ‘old school’ leadership styles and allow people to abdicate responsibility for delivering effective leadership or continue to behave in ways that go against the best interest organisation. A new focus and a new way of leading are required from leaders. In this context, the relationship between resilience and leadership is critical to understanding the requirements for leaders 2021 and beyond (Folan, 2021).

The New Frontier of Leadership

Research has clearly and consistently shown that great things happen when leaders deliver a transformational leadership style and have the capacity to adjust to the challenges they experience. We also know that transformational leaders deliver excellent cultures and achieve sustainable outcomes for their organisations (Bass, Avolio, Jung, & Berson, 2003; Bass & Riggio, 2006). However, there continues to be ongoing global concern over the lack of effective leadership (Howard & Wellins, 2009). This incongruence results from a lack of understanding of the attributes required to deliver a transformational leadership style. If we are going to fix the global deficit of effective leadership, we need to shift our focus to understand the prerequisite attributes essential for effective leadership.  Instead of teaching people how to deliver a transformational style, we need to first and foremost support them to develop the personal attributes that enable a transformational style. Recent research has shown that without resilience, it is impossible to deliver a transformational leadership style (Folan, 2019; Garbowski, 2010; Offutt, 2011).
No matter how much we invest in developing the transformational capability of the leader, we will always end up in the same place, with a global deficit of effective leadership. For years, we have educated people on the behaviours they need to deliver to demonstrate a transformational style. Yet, we can still look around and see people who do not exhibit these behaviours even when they have been trained in them. If we are to shift these results, we need to change our focus and focus first on enhancing leader resilience. Because without resilience, people are unable to deliver and maintain a transformational leadership style.

Leader Resilience is a Prerequisite for Effective Leadership

During the last ten years, we have seen the emergence of research identifying the importance of the relationship between resilience and leadership (Folan, 2019; Garbowski, 2010; Offutt, 2011). Research now shows that they go hand-in-hand and that being a successful leader is impossible without being resilient. The most outstanding leaders of our time—the ones that will go down in the history books as positive role models and icons of leadership—build their resilience, support the people around them to enhance their teams’ resilience and grow their organisations’ capacities to succeed and bounce back from challenge and adversity.
The synergistic relationship between resilience and leadership means that delivering a transformational leadership style requires a commitment to developing resilience. Organisations need to realign their strategies and build leader resilience to enhance leadership capacity and capability successfully. A leader without resilience is like a car without gas—it just won’t get you very far. No matter how many skills the leader is given or how competent they are. Like the car without gas, the leader is going nowhere without resilience. The importance of resilience in leadership cannot be overstated: it is the fuel that enables effective leadership.
The focus going forward needs to be on selecting and promoting people who want to lead and who are actively developing their resilience to enable an effective leadership style. Now more than ever, in our VUCA world, effective leadership is critical. If you want your organisation to stand out from the competition and deliver sustainable success, you must build exceptional leaders. Leadership is the distinguishing factor amongst highly successful companies. Show me a company delivering sustainable results, and you will be able to point to a leadership team that is the driving force of this success. Show me a company that is failing or getting in trouble, and this failure can be attributable to ineffective or unethical leadership. Resilient leadership is the driving force that carves out success for individuals, teams, and organisations. Resilience is the attribute that differentiates exceptional leaders from mediocre or ineffective ones.
Understanding the inter-dependence of leadership and resilience will support you and your organisations in building success. Resilience is the ‘New Frontier of Leadership’ that will enable leaders to deliver sustainable and effective leadership in the VUCA world.
Written by: Dr Lynda Folan, author of ‘Leader Resilience, The New Frontier of Leadership.’ Lynda is an Organisational Psychologist and a renowned specialist in Leadership and Organisational Development.