Posted in leadership

Leadership White Water


I recently read a paper by the Center for Creative Leadership that used the metaphor that leadership is perpetual white water. I was immediately drawn to it because I believe it to be true. There is always something to keep an eye on, always something that may make your day trip of calm water turn into a rapids ride, and always something that could turn your day completely topsy-turvy. There is also something about navigating exciting white water that draws leaders to the role.

On page 7, the author discussed VUCA, an army term, to describe this new environment:

  • V – change happens rapidly and on a large scale (volatile)
  • U – the future cannot be predicted with any precision (uncertainty)
  • C – challenges are complicated by many factors any there are few single causes or solutions (complex)
  • A – there is little clarity on what events mean or what effect they may have (ambiguous)

And on page 5, we are reminded that “In the agricultural era, schools mirrored the garden. In the industrial era, schools mirrored the factory, with an assembly line of learners. In the digital information era…VUCA. “

According to those interviewed for this paper, the most common skills, abilities, and attributes needed for VUCA white water leaders (page 9) will be

  • Adaptability
  • Self-awareness
  • Boundary spanning
  • Collaboration
  • Network thinking

Aids to improve the skills, abilities, and attributes listed above (page 9) will be

  • Training
  • Job assignments
  • Action learning
  • Executive coaching
  • Mentoring
  • 360-degree feedback

One leader interviewed stated, “Some people want to put Christ back in Christmas I want to put development back in leadership development,” (page 10). Suggestions to improve leadership development (page 22) include

  • Open flow of information
  • Flexible hierarchies
  • Distributed resources
  • Distributed decision making
  • Loosening of centralized controls

Does all of this sound familiar and simple? I think so. Do you know of a lot of corporations and agencies who follow it? You be the judge.

Cite: Future Trends in Leadership Development by Nick  Petrie