Optimism in a VUCA world

Who would have thought that the United Kingdom would so soon be facing leadership volatility and uncertainty? The situation is definitely complex and ambiguous – no-one really knows what to make of it!  A fascinating column in our daily newspaper questioned what is actually happening in voters’ minds? Again, no-one really knows and surprises keep coming fast and furiously across the political globe.

I know from my coaching engagements within government and other organisations that better managing the pace of change, clarity of vision, agility and growing an innovative culture are top of mind. Leadership development programs are focusing on helping leaders to find clarity faster, make the complex simple and become more agile decision makers. It’s no surprise that Emotional Intelligence is ramping up as one of the most sought after skills a leader can possess in these times. When faced with uncertainty, we look to our leaders to make decisions founded on all the available data, to consider carefully the facts along with the people side of every equation.

Times of change are likely to leave people feeling very uncertain, fuelling feelings of anxiety which can be summed up in a simple equation: Anxiety = uncertainty + powerlessness

Emotionally intelligent leaders have the skills to recognise the emotions at play, to carefully evaluate the impact of decisions, and to authentically and effectively communicate with their people to keep them in the loop as much as possible and manage their expectations.

Our brains can handle uncertainty and tough news, as long as we feel information is being shared and we’re not being isolated or left out of communications. Imagine the different outcome for Theresa May if she had been able to display some vulnerability in her acceptance speech, acknowledge where things may have gone wrong and asked the people for understanding as she worked hard to clarify the new vision (taking all things into consideration).

There is one Emotional Intelligence competency that stands out above all others at these times, and that is Optimism. A blend of possibility and hope. A leadership mindset that enables leaders to look at a situation from multiple perspectives with a lens of seeing things as temporary, isolated and likely to improve with continued personal and collective effort creates a culture that inspires confidence and continuing motivation. This mindset brings positive influence and buy in for the stormy seas ahead as people feel that they are not powerless – there is always something that we can do to keep moving forward.

The leaders of today would do well to think back on the charismatic Winston Churchill.  When much of Britain was in despair, he used brain friendly language (simple and precise so everyone could relate) and through optimistic, motivational speeches, he encouraged people to have faith in him and in what was possible. He kept hope and possibility alive, even in the midst of turmoil and uncertainty. He was and still is inspirational, and his optimism is an Emotionally Intelligence skill as relevant today in this VUCA world as it was more than 60 years ago.

I love the words he spoke in 1908 at a speech at Kinnard Hall, Dundee, Scotland:

“What is the use of living, if it be not to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone? How else can we put ourselves in harmonious relation with the great verities and consolations of the infinite and the eternal? And I avow my faith that we are marching towards better days. Humanity will not be cast down. We are going on swinging bravely forward along the grand high road and already behind the distant mountains is the promise of the sun.”

Cheers Alison