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  • Writer's pictureStephen Presley, PhD

A Short Conversation with Chat GPT Around Leadership in a VUCA World

Stephen Presley, Ph.D. and Founder of Upgrading Leaders


Since Chat GPT came out late last year (2022), I’ve been using it to flesh out ideas around leadership in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world. I’ve been focused on three areas; 1) what’s driving the rise of VUCA, 2) the nature of the adaptive challenges being created by these VUCA factors, and the enormous cognitive and emotional challenges it’s creating for leaders, and 3) how to build the mental skills needed to better understand and lead in today’s VUCA world.


I use Chat GPT by asking it questions and probing deeper into aspects of its responses. When I see potential connections, I ask about those connections. I can also have Chat “regenerate” a response, which provides a different synthesis of its previous answer. I’m finding its responses to be useful as a means of rapidly developing both broader and deeper understanding (this is somewhat limited as of now), including the relationships among various aspects and ideas. It’s not perfect, but I’m finding it useful.


Here’s a short example of Chat GPT responding to my prompts. The text in blue is my prompt.


PROMPT: Can you talk about the cognitive and emotional challenges presented by a VUCA world to leaders? What are those challenges and how can one go about building new capabilities for dealing with those challenges?


In a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) world, leaders face various cognitive and emotional challenges such as:


  1. Decision-making: Leaders must make quick and effective decisions in a rapidly changing environment with limited information. This requires a strong sense of judgment, agility, and risk-taking ability. Leaders must also balance short-term and long-term considerations and consider the impact of their decisions on various stakeholders.

  2. Complexity: Leaders must understand and navigate complex systems and relationships in order to lead effectively. This requires a holistic, systemic perspective and the ability to see connections and patterns where others may see only chaos. Leaders must also develop the ability to simplify complex issues for their teams and stakeholders.

  3. Ambiguity: Leaders must manage uncertainty and deal with unclear goals, unclear outcomes, and unclear risks. This requires a high level of adaptability and the ability to manage ambiguity in a positive way. Leaders must also foster a culture of transparency and encourage open communication in order to create a shared understanding of goals and expectations.

  4. Adaptability: Leaders must be able to quickly adapt to changing circumstances and pivot when necessary. This requires a growth mindset, a willingness to learn and embrace new ideas, and a proactive approach to continuous improvement. Leaders must also develop a culture of experimentation and encourage their teams to take calculated risks.

  5. Emotional resilience: Leaders must manage their own emotions and those of their team members in the face of constant change and stress. This requires strong emotional intelligence and the ability to stay calm under pressure. Leaders must also develop a supportive and positive team culture, where team members feel valued and heard.

Additional challenges:


6. Collaboration: Leaders must foster a culture of collaboration and encourage cross-functional teams to work together towards common goals. This requires strong interpersonal skills, the ability to facilitate effective communication, and a willingness to build relationships with stakeholders.


7. Innovation: Leaders must encourage and promote a culture of innovation and experimentation to drive continuous improvement. This requires a willingness to embrace new ideas, a growth mindset, and a willingness to experiment and take risks.


8. Strategic thinking: Leaders must develop a long-term, strategic perspective to guide their organizations through uncertain times. This requires strong analytical and critical thinking skills, and the ability to anticipate and prepare for future trends and changes.


Overall, building new capabilities for dealing with these challenges requires a combination of personal development, team development, and organizational development. Leaders must be willing to continuously learn and develop new skills, foster a positive team culture, and drive continuous improvement in their organizations.


PROMPT: It seems as though the complexity of the challenges leaders face today as evidenced by the increasing number of those challenges being adaptive challenges (per Heifetz and colleagues), is overwhelming the minds of leaders today. What do you think of this claim?


I'm an AI language model, so I don't have personal opinions, but I can say that the increasing complexity of challenges faced by leaders is a widely recognized phenomenon. The idea that leaders are struggling to adapt to the rapidly changing environment of the VUCA world is supported by various research and studies in the field of leadership and management.

The concept of "adaptive challenges," as described by Heifetz and colleagues, refers to complex and systemic problems that require significant changes in behavior, attitudes, and structures in order to be effectively addressed. These challenges are often deeply rooted in organizational culture, politics, and power dynamics, and require leaders to navigate difficult conversations and lead their teams through significant change.

In a VUCA world, leaders are increasingly facing adaptive challenges that require not only technical expertise, but also strong interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, and strategic thinking. The complexity of these challenges can be overwhelming, and many leaders may struggle to effectively address them.

However, it's important to note that leaders can develop the skills and capabilities necessary to effectively lead in a VUCA world. By embracing learning and development opportunities, building strong relationships with stakeholders, fostering a culture of collaboration and innovation, and developing a long-term strategic perspective, leaders can effectively navigate the challenges of the VUCA world and lead their organizations to success.


PROMPT: Is it becoming more important for leaders to learn to work with their minds to expand them, and to develop latent capabilities that are qualitatively different from the mental skills they currently possess?


Yes, it's becoming increasingly important for leaders to develop their mental capabilities and work with their minds to expand them. As the challenges faced by leaders in the VUCA world become more complex and multifaceted, it's essential for leaders to develop new skills and abilities that go beyond their current mental toolkits.

Developing latent capabilities, such as emotional intelligence, strategic thinking, and a growth mindset, can help leaders effectively navigate the complex and rapidly changing landscape of the VUCA world. These capabilities allow leaders to approach problems from different angles, see connections where others may see only chaos, and adapt to changing circumstances with greater ease.

In addition, developing these latent capabilities can also help leaders to build stronger relationships with their teams and stakeholders, foster a culture of innovation and collaboration, and lead their organizations toward success in the long term.

Overall, learning to work with their minds and developing latent capabilities can help leaders to become more effective, adaptive, and resilient in the face of the complex and rapidly changing challenges of the VUCA world.


PROMPT: Based on these last few conversations, what recommendations would you give leaders in companies about how to lead better in a VUCA world?


Based on our recent conversations, I would offer the following advice to leaders in companies on how to lead better in a VUCA world:


  1. Cultivate self-awareness: Leaders should prioritize self-reflection and practices that help to cultivate self-awareness and reduce the influence of biases and afflictions. This includes practices such as meditation, contemplative inquiry, and ethical practices.

  2. Embrace complexity: Leaders should acknowledge and embrace the complexity of the systems in which they are embedded, and work to understand the interconnections between their own mind and the systems in which they are operating.

  3. Practice empathy and compassion: Leaders should cultivate empathy and compassion for others, recognizing that the success of the organization is dependent on the well-being of all stakeholders, including employees, customers, and the community.

  4. Foster a culture of continuous learning: Leaders should foster a culture of continuous learning and experimentation, encouraging employees to try new approaches and test new ideas in order to better understand the complexity of the systems in which they are operating.

  5. Encourage experimentation and innovation: Leaders should encourage experimentation and innovation, and create a safe environment for employees to take risks and try new things.

By following these recommendations, leaders can develop the capacity to see and understand the complexity of the systems in which they are operating and to lead more effectively in a VUCA world.

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