Effectively Adapting to Any Situation (VUCA)

By Curtis Isozaki

Looking back to my time as a student at Azusa Pacific, I will never forget attending Kaleo, one of our evening mid-week chapels. As a community, there was a sense of unity through the power of worshipping and engaging Scripture together. When I was an admissions counselor, I always told students that kaleo in Greek means “to call out,” and Kaleo is a space mid-week where students can call out to God for a breakthrough in and through their lives.

Almost 20 years ago, on Tuesday morning, our nation faced a devastating challenge on 9/11. While many of you were children, college students were mourning and wrestling with the events of that day. So on Wednesday evening at Azusa Pacific, they gathered together to pray and worship together amidst such a confusing time. That mid-week 9/11 chapel became Kaleo, and it has continued to be a sacred time to this day.

I imagine that 20 years ago many of those students were praying for your generation of leaders, disciples, citizens, and scholars. Every generation is marked by leaders who rise above challenges with wisdom and virtue. They are marked by how they respond to challenges and how they come together as a community.

In turbulent times, our community has the opportunity to use our strengths to gain a better perspective. Our creativity and awareness can help us adapt to any situation effectively.

When people experience a state of flux in their sense of certainty, stability, and familiarity, two key questions help leaders assess the change in their environment: 1) How well can you predict the results of your actions? (Predictability) and 2) How much do you know about the situation? (Knowledge). Leaders’ social awareness of the world around them can help them gain a better perspective of the challenges or situations in the world around them.

About 25 years ago, after 9/11, the United States Army War College developed the acronym VUCA: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous, to describe uncertainty and unfamiliarity (The Mind Tools Content Team).

  • Volatility – change is rapid and unpredictable in its nature and magnitude, leading to unexpected challenges (+ predictability; + knowledge)
  • Uncertainty – the present is unclear, and the future is unpredictable, impacting the ability to know what will happen next (- predictability; + knowledge)
  • Complexity – many different interconnected factors that challenge to manage with the potential to cause chaos and confusion (+ predictability; - knowledge)
  • Ambiguity – lack of clarity and awareness about situations where multiple interpretations seem equally valid and permitted (- predictability; - knowledge)

In the book Leaders Make the Future, Johansen (2009) adapts VUCA for the business world to determine the unpredictable challenges that impact people and organizations. By identifying situations and scenarios as VUCA Threats: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous, leaders can lead themselves and their teams with VUCA Prime: Vision, Understanding, Clarity, and Agility.

  • Vision – paints a picture of the future to spark motivation for action
  • Understanding – understand interconnections through context, behaviors, and reactions
  • Clarity – focus that provides trust in various connections and processes
  • Agility – resilience to think and understand quickly to innovate and make decisions

When we process predictability and knowledge, our situations and scenarios can counter volatility with vision, meet uncertainty with understanding, react to complexity with clarity, and fight ambiguity with agility.

As a result, we create a New Normal that requires six critical leadership traits to lead effectively during uncertainty (Primeast US, 2020).

  1. Objectivity – help people understand the nature of their problem and creatively find solutions that lead to a clear decision
  2. Confidence – help people remain confident and resilient about the future amidst changing conditions
  3. Empathy – help people see the world through others’ perspectives by listening and learning from their experiences
  4. Integrity – help people by being honest with yourself and others, encouraging others to share to provide them the needed support
  5. Expectations – help people set clear goals that can be frequently discussed and adjusted amidst changing circumstances
  6. Engagement – help people engage in meaningful conversation that help them understand the challenges they face to determine a solution

Discussion Questions (VUCA)

  • How do your strengths provide stability in times of unexpected and rapid change? (Volatility)
  • How do your strengths create understanding when there is a lack of information for potential change? (Uncertainty)
  • How do your strengths provide simplicity when there are many interconnecting parts and variables? (Complexity)
  • How do your strengths give you agility and confidence to proceed into the unknown? (Ambiguity)
  • How can you use your strengths to increase your creativity for innovation, originality, and community amidst any challenge? (Creativity)
  • How can your strengths collaborate with your community to thrive in a changing environment? (Collaboration)


Johansen, B. (2009). Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

The Mind Tools Content Team. Managing in a VUCA World Thriving in Turbulent Times. https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/managing-vuca-world.htm

Primeast US. (2020, May 21). VUCA Leadership: How to lead in a VUCA world. [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oEyx0HrpMbA

Note: This information is current for the 2023-24 academic year; however, all stated academic information is subject to change. Please refer to the current Academic Catalog for more information.