Of course, you recognize that tagline. It was created in 1987 by Wieden + Kennedy to accompany Nike’s first major television campaign, and it was sparked by the last words of convicted murderer Gary Gilmore who said, “Let’s do it!” to the firing squad before his execution. Despite its inauspicious origins, this phrase has become the rally cry for millions of people as they push through difficulty, pain, and uncertainty.
Volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. VUCA. Words and an acronym to describe what has become the normal state of business in a world where everything changes at a pace that increases daily. We are told that leaders who are able or forced to shift and respond to changes in their respective industry or market with corresponding solutions that are quick and agile are “VUCA” leaders.
Sounds complicated, but it really isn’t—it’s just hard. What is interesting to me is the most likely thing for a leader to do under pressure is what aligns most with who they are and what they believe. Let me say that again. Under pressure, leaders and organizations and people in general behave in ways that are consistent with their authentic selves and their true core beliefs.
Pressure gets applied in lots of ways. Volatility can be up or down, growth or decline. Uncertainty is constant; it is our awareness of it that changes. Complexity accompanies growth and development. Ambiguity is inherent in human interaction as we often don’t know what we want, much less are we able to tell others. Pressure is simply the reality of leadership. If there was no “VUCA,” there would be no need for leadership. So, all leaders are VUCA leaders; some just aren’t any good at it.
To be clear, I am not saying that we shouldn’t prepare for things, analyze and mitigate risk, create strategic plans, and such. We should do all that and more. What I am saying is the single biggest predictor of leadership success is the core character and beliefs of the leader, and the biggest indicator of readiness in an organization is the organizational beliefs and culture.
The most important characteristics of leadership include humility, authenticity, and being other oriented. Without humility, there is no chance for growth and learning. Authenticity and transparency build trust and limit how far off course I can get. Being other oriented is living out the truth that everyone is equally valuable.
If we want a culture that is flexible, agile, and resilient, the energy and effort of every member of the community must be focused toward achieving the shared mission and vision. No energy should be spent on unhealthy internal conflict or on competing for value. Regardless of the shifting external conditions and influences, the internal culture should be stable, respectful, and caring.
The belief that organically creates this type of culture is the belief that everyone is intrinsically and equally valuable. The leadership must believe and live this. The community must believe and act in accordance with this. Then, and only then, will the resulting culture be capable of navigating VUCA by just doing what it does. Nothing more. Just doing what we do is the Bison Way.