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This blog is provided by David Goldsmith of 7 Paths Forward, LLC. ( It is a companion to his interview as a part of the WBECS (The World Business & Executive Coach Summary) Interview Series that is featured on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future. David’s interview aired on Tuesday, May 19, 2020, titled The Benefits of Great Coaching in a VUCA Environment.


VUCA stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. It’s a term that comes from the military to describe conditions during war. The current pandemic has highlighted and accelerated the disruption that leaders were already experiencing in their organizations. Now when we talk about VUCA more people have a first hand experience of what we are talking about.

The world is volatile right now. Everyday things change. We don’t know when and if things will return to how they used to be. This creates a lot of the uncertainty that we are all experiencing. Just as we think we know how things might be, we learn new things and our view changes rapidly. Sometimes we experience this change hourly! It’s a lot to keep up with.

It’s hard to imagine a time when things were more uncertain. When will children go back to school? How long will we work from home? Will there be further waves of the virus? How will we deal with those? What does “normal” look like in the future? How will this affect organizations? What kind of work will there be? What do we want to keep and preserve from the disruption?

The complexity has only increased. As a leader you had your OKRs for the year. How do you accomplish those goals with your workforce configured very differently? How do you get these done when your workforce is facing childcare challenges and experiencing a level of stress and personal disruption previously unknown?

The pandemic has also been a great example of ambiguity. We are watching governments manage a public health crisis and an economic crisis at the same time. There are no easy or right decisions. Every decision has consequences. And you never have enough information to make a decision. You have to choose and then be prepared to update your decision very quickly!

Coaches help leaders grow and develop and handle more complexity. Great coaches help their clients do this more efficiently and with deeper results. A simple example is inter-city trains. In many parts of the world you can take a train service from city a to city b that might take ten hours. Or you can take a high-speed train that makes the trip in six hours. The high-speed train is usually more comfortable and gets you there significantly faster. Both options get you to your destination.

During this pandemic we are finding that leaders are making time for their coaching sessions. However, many times these sessions are shorter. A great coach can efficiently work with the client to identify the issues, help them develop actionable insights and help them get on with their VUCA challenges.

To deal with these VUCA challenges requires a coach who has the experience, skill and insight to customize their work to provide what these leaders need now. They must be agile, insightful and armed with a large toolbox of skills and approaches. ​They must themselves be comfortable in a VUCA environment.

When you have to make a complex decision without enough information, you need a coach who can lean in to the conversation, help you understand all four of the VUCA elements and then help frame the issue so that the leader can make their best decision. And the coach is standing by ready to help that leader adjust (because they will need to).

Leaders also need great coaches who can work with a variety of narcissistic, defensive and emotional clients. All of us are dealing with a far greater level of conscious and unconscious stress. Leaders are behaving in ways that are unusual and often surprising to themselves. They need a coach who isn’t fazed by this and in fact knows how to utilize this new behavior to help the leader accelerate their growth.

Our current environment is a great example of why leaders who want to grow, develop, and thrive need to work with a great coach.


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Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, Google Play, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify and iHeartRADIO. Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

About the Author

A pioneer in the coaching industry, David Goldsmith was Chief Operating Officer of and past President of CoachU. He has staged many innovative conferences on coaching and was the first to showcase coaching research almost 20 years ago. He co-founded the Foundation for Coaching which has now become the Institute of Coaching at Harvard. he has also co-founded Accelerating Coach Excellence, a program dedicated to helping coaches get to the heart of client issues in less time.  David is an active coach working with senior leaders, professionals, and entrepreneurs around the globe. He has also coached many of the leaders in the coaching profession helping to grow the impact of coaching worldwide.