Change in turbulent times

Meg Wheatley says that we can’t be creative if we refuse to be confused, that change always start with confusion.

Unfortunately, confusion is a huge challenge for leaders;  clarity trumps complexity every time, even if you are clearly wrong. Most of the current leaders were born and raised in the image of the powerful leader, the hero, who had all the answers and won all the battles. These hero-leaders could not acknowledge uncertainty or their own needs. Their followers felt safe, guided by the strong, all-knowing leaders who gave them clear instructions on how to proceed. 


But that time is gone. Dealing with this iVUCA world requires a different skill set than the one we’re familiar with. Requires understanding that the world is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous and that, on top of that, everything is interconnected, and that this is changing the game plan.

In this iVUCA world, most of the important tasks are highly complex. There is no clear road map. The outcome is not black and white, no one has the answer, and the team knows more than the individuals. In this new world, decisions need to be made faster, but they are usually ambiguous, we won’t know if it was a good or a bad choice until some time has passed.

When leading in complexity, leaders need to help their teams to move from confusion to cocreation. 

In these turbulent times, as defined by Eric Trist, one of the founders of the Tavistock Insitute, we need to remember what Trist said: You can’t find the answers to organizations by looking inside of them.


So, leaders have to pay more attention and learn to live in these chaordic systems, immersed in an even more chaordic world; they need to walk the blurred zone between chaos and order, between management and true leadership,  and they need to leverage diversity of thinking and action.

Some leaders have started using a different metaphor to see the organization. The mechanical one is, most likely, obsolete. The hierarchy doesn’t allow the quick response that this new world requires.  Things change rapidly when we live in a world with volatile markets, with uncertain actions, with complex systems. The more rigid the organizational structure is, the more time it takes to adapt.

When we see the organization as a living system, when we understand that each area has a purpose, different parts, is self-organizing and interconnected, we act in different ways.  Work settings need to be more agile, flexible, entrepreneurial, and creative.


In this iVUCA world, I truly believe leaders need more tools (some of them are the old ones, some of them seem “new”):

  • Vision
  • Communication
  • Presence
  • Authenticity
  • Systems Thinking
  • Collaboration
  • Divergent Thinking
  • Decision Making
  • Mindfulness
  • Presencing (the ability to make meaning with other people)


Otto Scharmer speaks beautifully about this. All change starts with confusion, and true leadership is what can help a team do their best. Leaders won’t always have the answer. They need their teams. But to be open to ask and hear for their team’s input, they also require to sit in Complexity. To stay alert and to make sense of the environment with their teams.

Leaders need to understand that adaptation to change is not a task that can be given to a team, it’s a quality that they help develop in their teams.