Transitions Coaching Blog

Thoughts. Reflections. Intentions.

Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity: Leading in Today’s Challenging Environment

By Karen Konrath, Leadership Coach  |  October 14, 2021

“We are, in effect, engaged in a great venture of exploration, risk,
discovery and change without any comprehensive maps for guidance.”
– Peter Senge, The Dance of Change, 1999

Just a few months ago, we were hopeful we were emerging from the pandemic

We were venturing out and meeting face-to-face. We were getting ready to return to work and eager to welcome our teams back to the office. Then, as the Delta variant reared its head and our organizations surfaced new concerns, our plans were abruptly put on hold.

For more than a year, many of us have felt like we’ve been blindly navigating uncharted territory. In spite of—or perhaps because of—the strangeness of our current state, we want to build strong, values-driven cultures in the workplace. We want to be the best leaders we can be, nurturing, supporting, and pushing our people to succeed.

But in unfamiliar circumstances and with unrelenting pressure coming at us from every direction, we’re each challenged to build that culture and be that leader.

As we continue to wade through uncertainty, we’re confronted with leading in a VUCA environment, one that’s full of:



In this environment, challenges feel like they appear overnight, and when they arrive, we don’t know how long they’re going to last or how bad they’re going to be. We’re being asked to operate with incomplete information in unpredictable spaces. The issues we’re dealing with are highly interdependent and hard to map. Causal relationships are nearly impossible to see, and meaning is difficult to discern.

Figuring out how to navigate this tricky territory is weighing on leaders today

Logically and intellectually, we know that things are different, and therefore, we should be behaving differently. But emotionally, we’re having a hard time letting go of our old ways.

The reality is that leading in today’s VUCA environment demands that we change. We must grow and develop as individuals if we want any chance at successfully supporting our teams and strengthening our organizations.

This is where we have to take a hard look inside

Are we deploying our best selves? Or are we leading from our old beliefs and habits that may not serve us and the organization as a whole? If we want to answer these questions—if we’re courageous enough to answer these questions—we need to open up our internal map and see what it looks like.

One way to do this is by engaging in a leadership assessment process. Here at Transitions Coaching, we utilize the Leadership Circle Profile™ as a way to help our clients surface their unique “operating systems,” the beliefs that guide their behaviors.

Gaining a deeper understanding of our operating systems helps us identify our leadership strengths, the traits that may be limiting us, and our greatest opportunities for growth. By intentionally connecting to self in this way, we’re able to create greater awareness of the leader we most want to be.

Embracing this leader, we can be less reactive in the moment and more impactful for the long term. We can foster greater collaboration and create stronger cultures. We can face volatility and uncertainty head-on and manage complexity and ambiguity with greater confidence.

Leadership is not for the faint of heart

It takes a commitment to self-exploration, welcoming new insights, and allowing ourselves to cultivate and practice new skills. When we do, we’ll reach new levels of effectiveness to help us lead in the best—and worst—of times.

Photo by Dalton Touchberry on Unsplash