Leadership and Anxiety–Containment and Metabolism I: Anxiety in a VUCA-Plus Environment
As we begin to address the challenges associated with dancing landscapes, we enter a domain in which problems and dilemmas seem to merge into mysteries. Mysteries operate at a different level than puzzles, problems and dilemmas. Mysteries are too complex to understand and are ultimately unknowable. It is inevitably viewed from many different perspectives that are systematic and deeply rooted in culture and tradition. Mysteries have no boundaries, and all aspects are interrelated.
A specific mystery is profound. Desired outcomes are elusive—yet are they are also of great importance to all members of an organization or society. They are beyond rational comprehension and resolution. Mysteries must be viewed with respect, for they are awe-inspiring or just awe-ful. A mystery is in many ways religious or spiritual in nature. Depending on one’s perspective, they are the things “we take to God” or at least “take to heart”.
The typical description of VUCA captures several of the most important dimensions of organizational mystery. The term unpredictable (U) is particularly relevant. As Taleb (2010) has noted, there are many “black swans” to be found in our 21st Century world. Many events that occur in a VUCA-Plus environment are like black swans—they can be imagined but are not likely to ever be encountered—until they actually occur. Specifically, some mysteries relate to traumatic and devastating events: Why did I get out of the World Trade Center while my desk mate perished? Why is there evil in the world? Why did lightning strike our freighter but not the one next to it? Why did my child die before me?
Mysteries also encompass many positive events and moments of reflection: How did I deserve all these talents? Why have I been so blessed in my professional life? How did I ever raise such an exceptional child? How did I earn so much affection from these people at my retirement party? What is my destiny? Why did I fall in love with this person? Why did this remarkable person fall in love with me? Operating in a container of safety, privileged reflections on these questions can occur.