VUCA in the here and now

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VUCA in the here and now

By Raju Mandhyan

A FEW MONTHS AGO, I took a budget flight to Singapore while carrying only a backpack for the one night that I was to spend there.

At the airport check-in counter, they found my backpack to be heavier than the seven-kilogram limit. I also had a one-kilogram binder of notes and papers in my hand aside from the laptop and personal stuff in the backpack.

The girl at the counter had issues with that excess. I looked around and there were people carrying shopping bags, chocolates etc., while she had me move my stuff in and out of my backpack and nearly had me courier my binder back home before I boarded.

I asked for the supervisor and she claimed that she was, in fact, the supervisor. My ears were turning red with embarrassment when she eventually said that it was okay for me to board. I thanked her a bit tersely and she came back with, “Next time, please make sure to limit your hand-carried luggage to seven kilograms.” “Next time, I am not taking this airline,” I retorted. “We will take note of that, sir!” was her quick comeback.

I walked away — still embarrassed — but it slowly dawned on me that, if not for my feeling embarrassed, she, the supervisor, was really doing her job and had done her best to help me. As I boarded, I reflected upon my attitude and felt like making amends but got no chance to do so.

Today, I am thinking about how much customer-service people and their supervisors have to deal with in this highly volatile, uncertain, changing, and ambiguous (VUCA) world. Amid all the chaos, they have to be disciplined in order to maintain a calm demeanor under all the strain and stress.

I am tempted to believe that those who tend to not just survive but succeed in this VUCA world need to lean in and depend on their own VUCA. What is our own definition of the managerial acronym VUCA?

Values: Values that we hold near and dear are those that we live out loud. They are our absolute anchors, keeping us grounded and on keel. Whether we man the front lines or the boardrooms of our work lives, we need to get absolute clarity on the things we believe in and make those values our identity.

Uber-awareness: It is not just a matter of knowing what is going on at the surface but also of knowing what is going on beyond the limits of our sight, sound, and touch. It is being aware of space, of surroundings, and also of the emotions thriving within us and others. More importantly, it is an awareness wrapped in curiosity and kindness of what’s going on within the hearts and minds of others.

Courage: Many times, in all the things we are involved in, we do one of two things: We either hold ourselves back from getting involved or we interfere and intrude way too much into events. Courage is important and courage at the right time is much more important. We sometimes hold back because we may get hurt or lose face. Other times, we step in too much to exercise control or win favors or recognition. Proper balance is needed and that balance is weaned on our values.

Agile Adaptability: The last 100 years — the last three decades, especially — have seen incredible changes in how we are as a civilization. We can circles around the 25,000 miles of the earth in less than 72 hours. We can transfer millions of dollars from east all the way to the west in under 30 seconds. We can even board a plane and spend a night in another country with just seven kilograms of luggage.

It is a fast-changing world and people are required to adapt equally fast. Adapting quickly to changing circumstances requires openness, flexibility, and a huge desire to live this life out loud and to its fullness.

So — whether you are a humble traveler or a high-and-mighty supervisor behind a shiny check-in counter of an airline, a bank, or a call-center — what will make you a mover and a shaker in this VUCA world are your values, your uber-awareness, your courage to act at the right time and place, and your ability to adapt to a fast-changing world.

Success in work and life is not about regretting and ruminating over the past, nor is it about constantly fantasizing about the future: it is about being in the here and now — right now!


Raju Mandhyan is an author, coach, and trainer.