Effective Executive Journal
Leader Sensemaking in Times of Crises

Article Details
Pub. Date : Sep, 2019
Product Name : Effective Executive
Product Type : Coaching and Mentoring
Product Code : EECM21909
Author Name :Kurt April and Gerald Chimenya
Availability : YES
Subject/Domain : Management
Download Format : PDF Format
No. of Pages : 28



Leadership requires that leaders navigate through the world that is characterized by Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity, that is, a VUCA world. The acronym VUCA is not a single word but four different concepts that require different approaches. The sensemaking perspective provides a way of survival in a VUCA world. O’Driscoll and Bleak (2013) have come up with seven sense-abilities that leaders need to cultivate in order to make sense of unfamiliar contexts in their environment. This study explored the lived experiences of leaders in a VUCA world. The main research question was: What are the sensemaking constructs employed by leaders in a VUCA world? The study took a qualitative approach and a phenomenological strategy to explore the lived experiences of a sample of 18 participants who were regarded by their companies as managers and leaders. The participants were purposively selected, and this was supplemented by snowballing introductions. The findings were that unfamiliar contexts trigger occasions of sensemaking and that leaders make sense of a VUCA world based on their attitude towards creativity and risk-taking; having strategies for decision making under multiple options; having strategies for decision making under uncertainty; using various leader resources that go beyond their organizations; cultivating relationships with their employees and stakeholders through exhibiting collective leadership; having a broadened self-awareness that goes beyond their organizations; and analyzing and understanding the complex and unfamiliar situations before coming up with solutions.


Leadership, as a discipline, has tried and failed for many years to find the elusive set of competencies/skills that individuals require to navigate a world, characterized by Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity (VUCA world)—each of the concepts requiring different sets of responses, while their interrelatedness additionally compounds leaders’ tasks. The term VUCA is an acronym that has its origins in the United States Army after the Cold War and was used to describe “… a world order where threats are both diffuse and uncertain, where conflict is inherent and yet unpredictable, and where our capability to defend and promote our national interests may be restricted …” (Codreanu, 2016, p. 31). This acronym has found its way into business terminology to describe turbulent, rapidly changing and chaotic situations in the business environment (Lawrence, 2013). According to Bennett and Lemoine (2014), this acronym has become a catch phrase for most business executives who fail to realize the differences between the elements, and the unique challenges of each element, to the extent that they are unable to confront a VUCA world.


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