VUCA. Volatile. Uncertain. Complex. Ambiguous.

A tightly wrapped acronym, created by the military to describe extreme conditions of war, has like so many leadership and organisational concepts, been taken on by the business world.

We like acronyms, perhaps because they make us feel better. By packaging it, we can pretend we know what we’re talking about, or that we can control things.

Ever since VUCA came into the business lingo, consultants have been helping leaders and their teams ´unpack´ it to upskill. Learning and Development professionals, who are typically the purchasers like to talk about equipping their leaders with the ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ skills to ‘navigate their VUCA worlds’. From business risk analysis, scenario planning and artificial intelligence all the way to presence, deep listening and embracing paradox. As one of those consultants, I have previously written about my approach here.

Whilst I trust that all these have been and are useful, I sense that we need to step into a deeper conversation and exploration in order to create more agile creative leadership. One that embraces the reality of mystery.

Do we ditch the ‘control the controllables’ advice then?

A key VUCA learning point, one I find myself repeating, is ‘control the controllables’. With so much out of our control, it makes sense to focus on what we can control. And we still need to do that, while also understanding that that approach may be limiting us. By focusing exclusively on one tree we miss the forest; by focusing only on what we can control, we miss the whole. By seeing things as problems and solutions we keep trapped into a dynamic, aiming for things to be neatly controlled, boxed and resolved, rather than seeing how life itself is dynamic. For the unquantifiable and unmeasurable, that which might not be not physically seen, heard or felt, is life-informing.

When we ignore mystery, refusing to acknowledge or even name it, we fail to integrate it into a more evolved and nuanced way of knowing and being in service to people and planet.

As eco-therapist Bill Plotkin suggests, our maturation into a culture that the earth deserves, requires each of us to have cultivated a personal relationship with mystery. So that we can anchor ourselves in a vast, universal perspective.

It’s not actually so far-fetched

“So you talk to other leaders about mystery?”, a puzzled leader asked me.

I do understand that talking about ‘mystery’ can be both risky and triggering. It is not exactly business speak. I have even lost leadership work using the words ‘love’, ‘sacred’ and ‘soul’. But, whatever terms we choose to use, this isn’t actually far-fetched, because we are already on the mystery journey, existing on this incredible living, breathing rock which is spinning, suspended out in space. Our human experience includes both the physical, tangible and material AND the spiritual, intangible and ethereal. All intimately and exquisitely entwined with sacredness found in both and in their unity. Acknowledging the presence of both mystery and matter, matters!

Where do you feel your own personal connection with mystery? How do you experience it and how do you feel you already integrate it in the work that you do?

I know many people who, in their private lives, cultivate this connection yet leave this part of themselves at the door of their company office (or Zoom meeting room) in their professional life. Our organisations are brimming with uniquely brilliant human beings bringing their collective talents together to respond intelligently to our challenges, yet we don’t offer the space for their inner and outer, private and professional worlds to align. We don’t create conditions for this to be a safe space for the flourishing of our wholeness. As a result, we stunt our ability to heal and revitalise our wonderfully wise yet wounded world, and fail to truly connect with what VUCA means and offers.

Opening the door

We really need so many more of our leaders to open up these conversations. The courageous ones already do, aided by those researching workplace spirituality and many a fine poet and philosopher.

I think of David Whyte, who has done so much to bring poetry into corporate life. And philosopher Charles Eisenstein exploring separation and interbeing, recognising “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible” Sophie Strand writing about “rewilding the sacred masculine”. And Thomas Berry, in his 1999 book ‘The Great Work’ writing “As physical resources become less available, psychic energy must support the human project in a special manner. This situation brings us to a new reliance on the powers within the universe and also to experience of the deeper self”.

Who are your favourite sources of inspiration, who shine a light on the sacredness of life and encourage us to fully engage with it?

At Earth Converse we talk about ‘Naturing Our Mind Is A Leadership Act’ — to know that we are always being invited to engage in the bigger mystery, the life-affirming universe. The mystery of life in soil, seas, snakes, trees and the breeze.

Our regenerative futures depend on us taking up this invitation. Are you prepared to do so?

  • Image: a painting by Marieke Tollenaere, now in a private collection. For her work go to
  • Very grateful also to Cathy and Si for their support
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