VUCA Leadership: A Guide to Surviving and Thriving in Chaotic Times

By Brigadier General (Retired) Barney Forsythe, Ph.D., Karen Kuhla McClone, Ph.D., and Dan Rice, Tuesday, January 19, 2021

*This article was originally published by Chief Executive* 

This is part 1 of a 2-part series. Read Part 2, "Leading Through VUCA: CEOs Focus on Culture".

In 2018, we published an article, Excelling in a VUCA Environment Requires a Learning Mindset, exploring how corporate leaders excel in a dynamic business environment, which we characterized using an acronym developed by the U.S. Army in the mid-1990s—VUCA. VUCA stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous and was coined by the Army to describe the global operational environment after the Cold War. In that article, we presented five strategies for success: shaping organizational culture around mission and values, leveraging technology, aligning organizational structures, establishing a learning organization and developing leaders.

After the Covid-19 global pandemic hit in early 2020, we wanted to learn more about how these strategies were employed during one of the greatest disruptions in a century; you might call it “VUCA on steroids.” We wanted to know what it was like for executives and their organizations when Covid hit. Were they able to maintain their corporate culture, and if so, how did they do it? What strategies, which we identified in our earlier study, were successful, and how did they put these strategies into action? What will the “next normal” look like for their organizations?

To answer these questions, we interviewed six CEOs/presidents from a variety of industries (two of whom, as indicated by the asterisk, participated in our 2018 study):

Joe DePinto* – President and CEO, 7-Eleven

Tony Guzzi* – Chairman, President and CEO, EMCOR Group

Ken Lamneck – President and CEO, Insight

Ameet Mallik – EVP and Head of U.S., Novartis Oncology

Antonio Pietri – President and CEO, Aspen Technology

Doug Sieg – Managing Partner, Lord, Abbett & Co. LLC

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Daniel Rice, MBA, MSed, MS

ExperienceDan is the Co-President of Thayer Leadership and a 1988 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.  He is also President of the American University Kyiv, powered by Arizona State University, the first American accredited University in Ukraine.  Dan is the Special Advisor to the Commander in Chief... Read More +

Karen Kuhla McClone, Ph.D.

Karen was born in Washington, D.C. and now resides in New York. She attended Virginia Tech where she received a BS degree in Business Management and an MS degree in Education. Karen earned a PhD in Education from the University of Virginia. She is the recipient of a National Research... Read More +

Brigadier General George “Barney” Forsythe, Ph.D.

ExpertiseLeader development, education, and training  ExperienceBarney spent 35 years on active duty in the United States Army, serving in command and staff positions before returning to West Point’s Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership in 1984 as an Academy Professor. In 1991, he was promoted to Professor of Psychology and... Read More +

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The "X" Factor: Sustaining Personal and Organizational Xcellence
Major General (Retired) Keith Thurgood, Ph.D.