developing leaders in a VUCA world

Written by DBA faculty member Dr. Dana M. Sendziol, Ph.D. and MSL faculty member Dr. Elisabeth E. Bennett, Ph.D.

Leaders often acquire technical expertise to enter and advance within their professions. Yet, they might be unprepared to handle the complexities of leading and driving change in today’s volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) industries. When developing leaders in a VUCA world, factors like digital transformation, AI revolution, post-pandemic shifts, regulations, workplace generations, and cyber threats shape this landscape.

Learning skills in a changing world

The fast pace of change necessitates the gradual development of advanced skills. These skills combine technical knowledge with social abilities or “power skills.” As leaders advance in their careers, certain skills become increasingly important. These skills include communication, cultural understanding, and strategic thinking. They are particularly crucial for mid-level and executive positions. (Bennett, 2022).

These power skills complement the foundational technical competence and can be cultivated through scholar-practitioner programs that facilitate simultaneous learning and practical application (Bennett & Gorman, 2018). Important qualities for top leaders include strategic thinking, understanding concepts, and the power to influence others.

Further education helps leaders in a changing world. They need to understand their environment, find opportunities and threats, imagine different possibilities, and guide their team toward a positive future. This means encouraging new values, helping people change their behavior, recovering from problems, and creating flexible processes that show leadership agility.

Nicholas Horney (2021, pp. 22-23) introduced a model of leadership agility that comprises three core elements: people, processes, and technology. This model includes five essential abilities:

  1. Anticipating Change
  2. Instilling Confidence
  3. Taking Initiative
  4. Promoting Innovative Thinking
  5. Evaluating Outcomes

These capabilities harmonize with diagnostic and change methodologies related to human resources and organizational dynamics. Furthermore, they underscore the imperative for leaders and their followers to rapidly learn and adapt their mindsets. Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor provide a supportive and immersive online platform for leaders to nurture their leadership agility.

Online degrees for leadership development

The landscape of online learning has evolved significantly, propelled by the growth of proficient educators and sophisticated learning management systems. Today, it’s the favored route for professionals seeking flexibility in institution choice and practical experience alongside their graduate studies.

Concordia’s Master of Science in Leadership (MSL) and the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) programs cater to the needs of working individuals, offering an accelerated curriculum structured with one course at a time. This approach aids learners in maintaining focus and steady advancement. These programs not only enhance knowledge and competencies but also facilitate the growth of your professional network. They connect you with peers from diverse regions and roles.

Master’s of Leadership degree

The MSL program introduces students to a range of leadership assessments. This enables them to identify their distinct leadership styles, pinpoint areas for enhancement, and grasp the variations in approaches among other leaders and team members. This self-awareness is a crucial stride in personal leadership progression. It equips students to design corporate leadership development initiatives. These initiatives stand as pivotal pillars in talent strategies and achievement planning.

The program places a strong emphasis on honing communication skills. This encompasses both practical and scholarly aspects. This empowers our leaders to communicate with assurance—a skill of paramount importance for executives. The curriculum encompasses a spectrum of competencies, encompassing both general and domain-specific realms, including conflict resolution and problem diagnosis.

The program reaches its pinnacle through an inquiry project, a graduate research capstone that illuminates a real-world problem. This project involves cultivating leadership agility by exploring alternative perspectives that “liberate thinking” and evaluating data to formulate tangible recommendations.

Streamlining master’s to doctorate for informed leaders

The MSL program’s design includes shared course content. This enables a seamless transition into advanced professional development by completing up to four doctoral courses before starting Concordia’s DBA program. Within this framework, students have the flexibility to customize their learning journey. Students can choose an elective aligned with their interests. For instance, they can explore technical areas such as project management or financial analysis through the MBA program. They can also engage in experiential learning, participating in activities like service projects or internships.

Alternatively, they can opt for another DBA course. For example, enrolling in a scenario planning course can equip you with skills to develop viable alternative futures. This enhances your organization’s agility in addressing both crises and opportunities.

The shared course structure promotes smoother learning and lowers costs. Courses relevant to the DBA program have reduced tuition rates within the MSL curriculum. Additionally, Concordia University alumni may be eligible for scholarships.

Both the MSL and DBA programs follow an interdisciplinary cohort model, nurturing the next generation of transformative leaders. These leaders make a positive impact globally, employ creative and generous leadership, and empower individuals and organizations. Similar to the MSL program, DBA students assess their scholar-practitioner orientation by exploring ethical Christian leadership practices. They develop insights into relational skills, nurture emotional intelligence, and explore organizational culture.

The programs combine power skills with data analysis, addressing the rising demand for these proficiencies in line with technological advancements. In the DBA framework, students select from four specialized dissertation areas, guided by an advisor at the journey’s outset. The curriculum enhances communication, presentation, and evidence-based decision-making skills—critical for VUCA conditions.

Using skills in the real world

Leaders in various domains beyond business can enhance MSL-acquired skills in the DBA curriculum. The foundational concepts gleaned from leadership studies serve as a robust framework for doctoral research and advanced practitioner roles. In contemporary times, possessing a doctoral qualification is becoming more common for industry experts. This is especially true for those in positions like chief innovation officers, learning officers, or roles focused on institutional evaluation and research and development (R&D).

When pursued effectively, a doctorate can revolutionize cognitive patterns. This enhances one’s ability to drive organizational and individual transformation, fueled by a heightened aptitude for complexity, innovation, observation, and a more robust understanding of empirical evidence needed to support knowledge assertions and strategic decisions (Bennett & Gorman, 2018).

This explains the growing trend of scholar-practitioners attaining doctorates while concurrently pursuing their professional careers, whether continuing along their current trajectory or transitioning to novel vocations. In either trajectory, you can pursue continuous and advanced professional development through Concordia University’s online learning platform.

The ongoing industry trends indicate that developing leaders in a VUCA world will remain significant for an extended period. Professions once deemed immune to automation are now disappearing or experiencing substantial changes due to rapid advancements in artificial intelligence. Amidst this context, individuals, whether leaders or learners, who adopt agility gain a notable competitive advantage. Academic programs fostering leadership, innovation, and knowledge provide exceptional chances for both survival and thriving in the future of work.