What does VUCA mean to you?

I have just completed some training for a large group of staff going through a period of change in their workplace and providing them with some tools to assist build their resilience and mental toughness. One of the comments I heard most often during the initial debriefing session was… “when are things going to get back to normal?” At this point, I had to address the hard truth that maybe the better question was “will things ever get back to normal?”

VUCA is an acronym which stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. First used by the U.S. military, it was soon adopted by occupational leadership to deal with post globalisation challenges, different environmental contexts and arising financial instability.

We recognise that if we are going to manage in a VUCA landscape, resilience and even more specifically, Mental Toughness is crucial.

Mental Toughness and VUCA combined provide powerful insights into how individuals and organisations can turn opportunities and threats into successes.

From the landscape of war, to its adoption by organisations and leadership, we recognise that we are now required to urgently re-calibrate and deploy a different skill-set and approach to maintainsustainable success both as organisations and as individuals in a VUCA world.

The answer lies in developing your Mental Toughness.

Mental Toughness is a personality trait which determines, in some part, how individuals perform when exposed to stressors, pressure and challenge… irrespective of the prevailing situation. (Clough & Strycharczyk 2011)


Here is how Mental Toughness and its 4Cs defined as Challenge, Commitment, Control and Confidence are aligned with the 4 VUCA dimensions as considered by Naim Safi (2016).

VUCA Model for Mental Toughness

VUCA Model for Mental Toughness



Change is a constant in our world and the key to success lies in our ability to adapt to challenges to build a more agile/resilient workforce and organisations. Challenge is best described as our inner-driveIt describes to what extent you see challenges, change, adversity and variety as opportunities not threats. It helps us nurture a flexible mindset and better manage the fear of the unknown through visualisation, reflection and continuous development.


Operating in high risk-based environments where possible solutions are presented and high levels of uncertainty are pervasive, Commitment is paramount to remaining focused by leveraging on available resources to achieve milestones and doing what it takes to reach your final target avoiding stalemate states and idleness.


Interdependence and the non-linear interactions within more complex organisations require a degree of Control over our emotions and our ability to still achieve. Increasing self-awareness, learning how to better deal with stressors and the use of positive thinking applications will ensure we maintain a balance of peak performance and wellbeing.


Cause and effect analysis no longer prevail as many interpretations appear to be valid in the “unknown of unknowns’ field. Solving this issue requires interpersonal Confidence as many perspectives will be needed to present ideas and act towards a solution. Confidence in your own abilities will also help you identify your strengths and weaknesses and “have a go” to achieve your personal best and gain confidence in maximising your potential and assist your organisation work toward its full potential.


Mental Toughness is assessed using the MTQ48 psychometric tool and developed through a series of development and coaching interventions.

Mental Toughness and VUCA together with MTQ48 form a powerful tool for individuals, organisations and coaches to harness and develop control, commitment, challenge and confidence while navigating a VUCA world.


Michelle Bakjac is an experienced Organisational Consultant, Coach, Speaker and Facilitator. As Director of Bakjac Consulting, she is a member of the International Coach Federation (ICF) and a member of Mental Toughness Partners and an MTQ48 accredited Mental Toughness practitioner.  Michelle assists individuals and organisations to develop their Mental Toughness to improve performance, behaviour and wellbeing.  You can find her at or

The Future Of Leadership

I recently attended the Future of Leadership Series in Melbourne and wanted to share some of the key insights from a great day of knowledgeable speakers including Dr Jason Fox, Shivani Gupta, Darren Hill and Patrick Hollingworth. The day was all about the key themes emerging from workplaces regarding their challenges and how these could be managed moving forward.

So…. following are some of my key leanings from the day.

1.   More and more we are being told that “more is better”. Work more hours, get more clients, more direction, more outcomes…… we are constantly told to keep doing and aiming for more. But this can be contradicted. Think of a great chef. A chef knows just the right amount of spice to add to a dish. You don’t add too much, or it will drown the dish and throw it out of balance. And every dish has just the right amount of spice. So for every individual, for every team and every organisation… what is the “right amount of spice”?

2.   VUCA was mentioned a lot during the course of the day. What is VUCA you ask. It is the acronym for the fast paced environment we now find organisations are attempting to manage (some better than others). VUCA stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. A very apt acronym for the environment leaders are managing. One of the skills identified to manage through VUCA was “Sense Making”. How do we assist people to make sense of all the information and not provide either a “mega saga” or “make their ears bleed”? How do you present the information so that it makes sense to people. How often do we use bullet points and lists and graphs only to be confronted with yawns from a team. The insight to provide a “map”, a “model” and the “mojo”. Show people where you are going, give graphic representation and a message they can see and understand and that is exciting.

3.   Something that I feel will resonate with many people was the insight about recognising your Passions. It was identified that there are predominantly 7 Passions – Family, Friends, Spiritual, Work, Health, Mind, and Money. However what was interesting is that we can only have 3 passions at once that we can Master. We may be ok at the other areas/passions, but we should only try to focus on our top 3 and not worry too much about being average at the others. The key message was to know your passions, embrace them and start recognising when you need to say “no” to something that is not one of your passions.

4.   It was identified that “experience” can often be a burden to meaningful progress. Let me explain. Often when we come across a situation of adversity, we often go to our default position and do “what we’ve always done”. We tend to only do something that has been tried and worked before. But in this VUCA world, many things we have tried before don’t work any longer when we are dealing with such complexity. So the challenge…. how do teams move past their default thinking and really challenge themselves to spend the time to embrace genuine discussion about new pathways? They need to take a risk. Unfortunately the “cult of productivity” often means that we don’t spend the time we require to have these insights and take a risk and consider new ways of thinking. But “Only that which can change, can continue”. (James Carse) and this “Once a mind has been stretched to a new idea, it can never return to its original shape” O. W Holmes.

5.   We only have the ability to choose one state – courage or comfort. When leading teams we can either “do it the way we have always done it” or we can be courageous and “push” the team to always consider news insights. This is often painful for a team to experience. There is a point when we push past the pain that makes us feel so uncomfortable with the unfamiliar, a critical point where we recognise that we are still safe. As leaders, we need to encourage a team to take this “hero’s journey”.  

6.   Leadership has been a “linear beast” for over 150 years. However it was recognised that technology is exponentially impacting on people and places and that teams are dealing with significant uncertainty in this VUCA environment. It was considered that old style organisations with heavy emphasis on hierarchy and heavy infrastructure may be slow to respond, can be risk adverse and only outcome driven. But…consider UBER. This is an organisation with absolutely minimal infrastructure and was now worth as much if not more in global income than BHP. It was considered that agility and innovation was an organisation’s opportunity for growth and survival moving forward. In other words an organisation needs to move “light and fast”. Consider self-reliance, fast response, risk embracing, relinquishing external control, being quality driven, intrinsically motivated and prefer (not avoid) VUCA.

7.   And finally what will be the top 10 skills in 2020:

1.           Complex Problem Solving

2.           Critical Thinking

3.           Creativity

4.           People Management

5.           Coordinating with others

6.           Emotional Intelligence

7.           Judgement and Decision Making

8.           Service Orientation

9.           Negotiation

10.        Cognitive Flexibility.

So….. if you are in leadership, interesting times lay ahead. The responsibility falls to you as to how you will assist your team to move through volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous times. How will you rise to the challenge?