Leadership Decision Making in a VUCA World

Leadership Decision Making in a VUCA World

Have you ever made a poor decision? One that you regretted later on? Or like me, have you made decisions at the time that you knew deep down were not great but you just ended up talking yourself into it?

In this article, I want to share with you the art of making good leadership decisions in a VUCA World. If you are not familiar with the term VUCA, it originated from the US Military around 15 years ago when they researched the nature of the decision landscape that modern warfare encompassed.   VUCA stands for volatility, unpredictability, complexity and ambiguity.

Although VUCA began on the warfare landscape, researchers have also looked at how people make decisions when they have very little information to go on in other extreme complex and volatile, environments such as fire fighting. In particular, the role that courage takes in these extreme circumstances.   Further, the research moved on to looking at what happens in clinical practice in medicine – another area where human lives are impacted by the quality of decisions in a VUCA context.

Finally, the application of this research moved into a business context, in particular with regards to Entrepreneur strategic business decision making

Here are some of the highlights of the research:

  • The gut reaction and intuition part of decision making are neurologically based behaviours. They are embodied and come from below the neck. Therefore, it is not about head-based cognition.
  • Intuition is a key part of decision making
  • Leaders definitely use intuition a lot. In fact, there is growing body of evidence and solid research that shows that intuition is a critical aspect of how we interact with our environment and make key decisions.
  • Great leaders use intuition and have the uncanny ability to sense what should be done and the courage of their convictions to act decisively.
  • That key element of courage continues to show up in all areas of the research.

What the researchers didn’t know though was how to teach people to actually use their intuition in the decision making process.

This is where the new field of mBraining and mBIT, the work of Marvin Oka and Grant Soosalu, has become so important. This work brings a pragmatic ‘how’ to the research findings.  The research supports science in that we have brains in our heart, gut as well as our head. However, much of our embodied intuition is in the heart and the gut.   Therefore, if we can figure out how to use them all together, we get a much more complete approach to decision making.

This can be incredibly important when you consider the decision landscape that the modern CEO is faced with. You’re operating in complex and adaptive multi-faceted organizations where you’ve got clients, competitors, customers, stakeholders all vying for representation, advocacy, support and results.  In addition, you also have governance and shareholders , risk management, legal and compliance and employees etc. Finally, we now have a massive level technical complexity the speed of information spread across social media and the internet.

So how do you keep up with it all? How do you make great decisions when it’s difficult to keep up with the ever increasing level of information that is being generated? How can you possibly take all this in, analyze it and come up with decisions that are valid and consistently bring great outcomes?

For those required to make this type of decision, it can often lead to stress, burnout , feelings of disorientation and confusion.

In the wise words of Albert Einstein, “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them”.

Do we continue to follow our head, the cognition and the thinking processes that we all become skilled in or do we start to tap into the intuition of our heart and our gut deliberately and use those as foundational elements of our decision making?

Modern science has already proven that we have brains in our head, gut and heart and they’re interconnected.     Therefore, it would make sense that in using this connected neural network we gain a much deeper ability to use our intuition in decision making. The field of mBraining and the behavioural modelling that Grant and Marvin have conducted demonstrates key functions of these three neural networks and there is a lot of potential to add these to our decision making.

For our head brain, it’s probably pretty obvious – Cognitive perception, thinking and making meaning.    These are the things that we do every day and we have great skills in them.

However, our heart brain is responsible for the functions of emoting or emotions, values or what’s important to us and our connectedness to the people around us. When we think about decision making and how decisions impact ourselves, our family, the people around us at work and our community, it seems sensible, logical and human to incorporate any information we can get from our heart about those things.

With regard to our gut, the functions, the prime functions of our gut are our own core identity. This relates to how we set boundaries for ourselves, who we are and who we are not. It also includes Self-preservation, and the management of threat and risk. The gut is also about moving to action, which links to the importance of courage mentioned earlier in this article. What’s really interesting is again, in the context of decision making, tapping into a part of us that gives us information about threats and risk enables us to make decisions based on who we really are.

In Conclusion, there is a lot of current research that shows that the use of intuition on top of a knowledge base creates better decisions making with better outcomes. Your head alone can’t process all of the available information and sometimes it flounders. We need to ramp up our decision making by incorporating the rest of our neural network. Great leaders use their head, heart and gut.

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By Stacey Ashley, managing director at Ashley Coaching & Consulting.

[VUCA is a managerial acronym. short for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.]

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