Managing Chaos


As the CEO of a company, you are the captain of your ship. It is your responsibility to lead and guide your crew (employees). It is also your responsibility to ensure that you are steering your ship right so that it stays on course, and most importantly, doesn’t sink.


You have to lead your team and build confidence as you show them how to overcome challenges. Startups are in an environment where you will often encounter issues or problems that you’ve never seen before and tasks that you have never done before. So how exactly can you, as CEO and captain, lead your team? It’s about providing them with the necessary tools to manage the chaos.


If anyone knows  how to expertly manage chaos and keep things in order, it is the U.S. Armed Forces. In fact, in the 1990s, the U.S. Army War College came up with a concept known as VUCA to characterize this type of volatile environment in which organisms (including startups) operate. VUCA stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.


In a nutshell, volatility exists when we encounter unpredictabilities relating to the nature, speed, and size of change. Uncertainty enters the scene when a lack of knowledge exists to chart your future course. Complexity describes the areas when the outcome of a course of action cannot be simplified into a single, clear, black, and white algorithm. As for ambiguity,  that occurs when the key components of a situation are not clear cut and can be open for myriad interpretations.


As a leader, you need to understand how to navigate VUCA. You have to understand and have a road map to help you figure out how to identify, interpret, and solve issues. You have to make a solid plan on how to get through the storm—how to navigate the waves and conditions. You can’t just calm the boat or redirect it without a plan and hope for the best. You need to be strategic and proactive.

Enter a model known as VUCA-Prime, which was proposed by Bob Johansen in 2007. Just like the original VUCA, it also consists of four elements, each one describing a leadership behavior that expertly addresses a corresponding original VUCA dimension.


VUCA-Prime Summarized:


Vision rises above Volatility. By maintaining a clear focus, CEOs can more easily navigate unpredictable changes.


Understanding reduces Uncertainty. When unknowns are encountered, it is up to CEOs to mitigate the chaos by finding new information, exploring new frontiers, and learning all they can from external sources to increase understanding (and lessen uncertainty).


Clarity counters Complexity. By cutting through any unnecessary “clutter” such as extraneous details/factors in the situation, etc., CEOs are free to focus on the core issues to ultimately solve problems as they arise.


Agility overcomes Ambiguity. The ability to adapt and respond quickly to unexpected changes and circumstances empowers a company to stand boldly, even in the face of ambiguity, knowing that they will be ready to react when needed.


This concept not only applies to military strategy, but is perfectly suitable to manage growth in an innovative startup.


As a CEO, if you can embrace the above wisdom and seek to utilize these four VUCA-Prime essential tools, you can create the environment that fosters trust and confidence from your employees—one where they have so much faith that their captain will help them navigate any coming storms that they start to cease to let fear affect them. Instead—as you as CEO have had to do already—they will learn to become comfortable with being uncomfortable, even amid chaos.