VUCA – an acronym for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous. The term was first coined by the U.S. Army War College after the end of the Cold War to describe the conditions of that time. It’s a term now being used again in business and leadership circles to describe today’s world.
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It’s early morning – still more than an hour to go before the sun rises. I awoke at 4:30, knowing that my first task of the day was to write the article that would appear on my blog the day before the U.S. presidential elections and in our weekly newsletter the day after.
While I know that there have been other periods of deep uncertainty and ambiguity in our country’s history, I can’t remember a time in my 61 years when we have stood at such a confounding and unsettling threshold. We in the United States have been in a liminal space for most of this political campaign—well, actually, for much longer than that. A liminal space is the space in between what was and what will be. It’s a waiting space. And it’s often an uncomfortable place because everything feels out of our control.
The reality is that, regardless of who the next U.S. president is, we will probably continue to remain in this liminal space for quite some time. To me, we feel much more like the VUCA States of American than like the United States of America. Conditions are likely to remain volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. And our uncertainty and ambiguity ripples out around the world.
I don’t have a magic wand to make it all OK. I don’t even know what strategic questions to ask. And I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. So how do we respond?
Sitting in the silence in the early morning darkness, big-picture questions start to arise: Who do we choose to be as citizens? Citizens of our own countries? Citizens of the world? How do we choose to show up? What roles do we choose to play? And what are our responsibilities, not just the responsibilities of our elected officials?
It’s easy to say, “There’s nothing else I can do. I have voted; I’ve done my part. Now it is out of my hands. I can’t change the results.”
Yet there is something we all can do as citizens. We can hold space for healing and wholeness in our own countries and in our world. We can hold space for integrity to take precedence over personal interests—for each person (including ourselves and our leaders) to stand in their own integrity as members of a larger community and to stand up for a greater good in service of all. We can hold space for all people to become aware of the interconnectedness of everything. And we can tap into the wisdom of the heart for guidance in how we move forward.
“Holding space” means much more than just wishing or hoping for something to happen, and then giving it an occasional passing thought. Holding space means being in a state of intentional, proactive engagement. It’s a state of focused energy, vision, and action. It’s bringing your full presence to the support of a situation or circumstance—not trying to manipulate things for a specific outcome, but rather creating an environment where the best possible outcome can unfold. Within that intention is also the acknowledgment that we may not yet know what that best possible outcome is.
One of the tenets of Transformational Presence is the understanding that our job is not to tell people what to think or advise them about what they should do; rather, our job is to help people expand their awareness and perspective. When how we think expands, so do our possibilities and choices. Our worldview expands and a greater potential is revealed.
This week, the United States elects a new president. However, the VUCA conditions within our nation and in the world will not disappear. We have a challenging road ahead of us. Yes, there are many opportunities, and there is great potential for who we can become—as individual citizens, as countries, and as a global collection of cultures and societies. Yet the road ahead is also quite likely to be uncomfortable, sometimes scary, and often uncertain. There will be times when we cannot say exactly where we are. Yet that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re lost. It just means that we need to keep finding our way, one step at a time.
The sun is just coming up now in a blaze of red and orange. My grandfather used to say, “Red sky at morning, sailors take warning.” I’m not one for doomsday forecasts, nor do I believe that’s where we are headed. However, it is time for us to pay attention—to be conscious and intentional about how we show up for our communities, our countries, and our world.
These VUCA times are issuing a clarion call for each of us is to stand tall in our own integrity. May we all hold space for the greater wisdom of our collective hearts to take precedence over our individual interests and personal agendas. And may that greater wisdom lead us forward in our choices and actions. The leadership of our countries and of our world is not just up to our elected officials. It’s up to all of us.
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