Exploring the Sustenance of an Agile Organizational Culture in a VUCA World: a Literature Review

Hazvineyi Saurombe & Anna-Marie Pelser

Hazvineyi Saurombe – Extraordinary Researcher, NWU GIFT ENTITY

Correspondence email address: hazviesaurombe@gmail.com

Orcid Number: 0000-0001-5756-2299

Anna-Marie Pelser – Professor, Director Global, Innovative, Forefront, Talent Management (GIFT)

Correspondence email address: anna.pelser@nwu.ac.za or ampelser@hotmail.com

Orcid Number: 0000-0001-8401-3893

Ensovoort, volume 44 (2023), number 12: 2


Organisational culture has, for a long time, been considered as the great “cure-all” for most organisational problems; and has been viewed as the “glue that binds any organisation together”. Recently the term “VUCA” (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) has taken the world by storm, presenting significant challenges to the tenets of Organisational Culture (OC), which emphasizes long-term planning, belief in long-standing values built over a long period of time and stability. VUCA on the other hand, requires different thinking, emphasizing that in order to survive and thrive in the modern-day environment, organizations need to adopt a new approach to OC. The 2 phenomena are diametrical opposites. This paper advocates for the need of leaders who will introduce a mindset shift from OC’s traditional and rigid approach and instead, adopt VUCA’s required agility, flexibility, adaptability, and the ability to learn from new experiences in order to respond quickly to changing circumstances. This qualitative research, guided by the Chameleon Theory of Leadership, is a review of available literature on how OC can still be maintained in a VUCA world. The research found that a special type of OC is needed to counter VUCA, as well as leadership that is agile, adaptive and able to make quick and effective decisions.

Key words: VUCA, organisational culture, leadership and agility


In the business world, remarkable and sustained success of many organizations has not only been determined by specific external conditions, but also by organizational culture (Cameron & Quinn, 2011). Several different definitions of organizational culture can be found in literature, and are mostly offshoots from Schein (1992), who is regarded as the father of Organizational Culture studies. Organizational culture refers to a set of beliefs, values, norms and assumptions shared by members of an organization (Gregory, Harris, Armenakis & Shook, 2009). Scholarly literature abounds in verifying the positive effects of organizational culture on business performance (Reddy & Scheepers, 2019).

Tsai (2011) asserts that organizational culture refers to the beliefs and values that have existed in an organization for a long time; whereas for Service Brand Global Ltd’s (2021) “Organizational culture tends to emerge over time”; McShane (2005), on the other hand, posits that “Every company has a culture, it comes from within and it takes time to create”. These assertions point to the fact that organizational culture tends to evolve over time. In fact, Fajak (2018) states that the standard belief is that culture takes 2-3 years to be established. In the modern-day business realm, this is a time frame that is totally inconceivable in the era of VUCA. VUCA is an acronym for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity (Arda, Aslan & Alpkan, 2016; Saleh & Watson, 2017; Wright & Wigmore, 2023). VUCA describes a situation of constant, unpredictable change that is now the norm in daily life, and more so in the business world. VUCA presents a landscape in which changes, situations or conditions occur suddenly, on a large scale and are difficult to analyze, respond to, or plan for and manage accordingly (Ramakrishnan, 2021). Times are highly unpredictable, and situations change rapidly, presenting major challenges to the tenets of organizational culture, and nullifying and rendering obsolete all models that have been used in the past as reliable antidotes to deal with complexity and uncertainty. The emergence of the COVID-19 virus in 2019, with its high frequencies of mutations, together with the Monkey Virus and the geopolitical conflicts in Eastern Europe, and the changes in technological advancement in Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) and its attendant Artificial Intelligence (AI), as well as constant disruptions in the internet of things have shown us that in modern times the centre does not hold. The global turmoil in the health, political and economic arena induced unstable, volatile and ambiguous global dynamics in the world economic posture, financial configurations, energy and power supply mechanisms. These are an open testament to a VUCA world in which organizational Culture and leadership should constantly juggle around to try and stay ahead of the pack within global uncertainties.

Problem investigated

It has been an open secret for a long time that for organizations to scale up their operations and consider the long-term future success of their businesses, leaders must build a stable organizational culture which in times past was guaranteed to play a key role in their success (Graham, Grennan, Harvey & Rajgopal, 2016). Organizational culture provides stability and a sense of continuity within the organization. Leaders who maintained and followed their organizational culture were role models; they were charged with demonstrating behaviours reflective of a company’s core values; they pointed to their employees what actions to take to fully embrace workplace values, and it was the duty of the leader to translate the mission of an organization into tangible results (Herrity, 2022). This was the situation until VUCA entered the lexicon of world business leaders, policy makers and academics describing the prevailing dynamic environments affecting daily operations.

Leadership in business at a global level is now being robustly tested. The shift in global economic and geopolitical postures across Europe, which has profoundly redefined political foes and friends has birthed a situation whereby leaders of business organizations are finding themselves totally unable and unprepared to effectively assume their leading role. The prevailing volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of problems is humbling as now, more than ever, business decisions are made in the context of global markets and rapidly (even radically) changing social, financial, technological, political and environmental forces.

What worked before no longer works as command-and-control structures are failing in this disruptive and fast-changing VUCA environment. Leaders are suddenly required to make quick and bold decisions and act on insufficient or incomplete information and resulting in a consistently overwhelming lack of transparency (Malkawi, Mohailan, Malkawi & Malkawi, 2021). At the institutional, local, regional or global levels leaders can no longer make sense of the environment, or predict the future due to the complexity of the current VUCA environment and yet they are expected to excel in order for their businesses to survive and thrive. Prior to the current volatility, leaders could spot where to start from in order to drive the change they desired, but now, this is no longer the case, and neither do they have the time to think through, analyze and reflect on situations (Porter, 2017). Scenario making and policy forecasting based on meticulous analysis of data that enabled organizations to be bound together with the glue-like qualities of OC, is no longer possible. In the prevailing unpredictable socioeconomic and geopolitical climate, leadership is therefore forced to act based on a limited understanding of events and their interpretation, resulting in them either acting too quickly or even too late as they battle with paralysis of analysis of the prevailing situation. It appears as though business leadership is faced with seeming disintegration. Organizational culture has, over time, been known as the glue that holds an organization together (Bolander, Werr & Asplund, 2017; Mankins 2013), and leaders relied on it to chart their organizations to safe terrain in times of difficulty. VUCA on the other hand, demands that leadership discards traditional, outdated approaches to leadership, and day-to-day working which solely and totally relied on the existence of the goodwill of an organizational culture, and instead, adopt agile solutions. Scholarly literature, however, still abounds that supports the fact that even in modern-day turbulence, organizational culture cannot be laid aside, it is still critical, it is still the glue binding the organization together. Leadership in turbulent times has tended to be a snowball phenomenon whose structure and substance is constantly changing and being changed as it rolls down the ever-changing slopes of global uncertainty. The problem for modern-day organizations is to decipher the type of organizational culture (glue) that must be pursued to adapt to the VUCA environment. This leads to the question: what must this glue consist of? New ways must be found. An agile organizational culture and leadership must be pursued. This research, through a detailed literature review, seeks to explore the sustenance of an agile organizational culture and leadership to counter VUCA.

Research question

How can the tenets of an agile OC leadership be applied in an ever-changing VUCA business environment?

Research objective

The objective of this research is to present ways through which the tenets of an agile OC leadership may be applied in an ever-changing VUCA business environment.

Chameleon Theory of Leadership

This research is guided by the Chameleon Theory of Leadership in Education and Research, which was developed by Sadruddin and Sadruddin (2023). Off hand, chameleons are known for their ability to change their skin color to blend in with their environment to evade predators, but the main reason for this classic example of camouflage is that they change colour for temperature regulation and communication (The Enterprise World (TEW), 2023; Bushor, 2020). All animals regulate their body temperature in various ways, some by doing it internally while others utilize their immediate environment (Craig, 2023). Maintaining the correct body temperature range is critical for survival because if an animal gets too hot or too cold, their cellular processes will shut down, and the animal will die (Friedl, 2015). Chameleons change their color to keep their insides steady (their core) and thus ensure their survival (Dolgin, 2021). The term ‘Chameleon Business Leader’ (CBL) is used to describe leaders who adapt their behavior and personality to fit into the different business environments and survive; and just like the actual chameleon, adjusting to their environment is one of these CBL’s distinguishing characteristics (Threatt, 2021, Feldstein, 2019). A chameleon changes its colors based on its internal needs, but in relation to the external environment. For the CBL, this means knowing your values (internal needs), what you stand for. It’s about finding the right formula to best engage themselves in the VUCA environment they may find themselves in. Chameleon Business Leadership is effective in various situations, contexts, and settings, and the leaders are characterized by their agility, flexibility, adaptability, fluidity, and consciousness of their environment pursuant to the internal beckoning of their organizational uniqueness imprinted upon them by their OC.

Literature Review

In a VUCA business terrain, organizational culture, being the glue that holds an organization together (Bolander, Werr & Asplund, 2017); Mankins 2013), must not be set aside, but rather, there must be a mindset shift from the traditional and rigid adherence to it, and instead, adopt agility, flexibility, adaptability and the ability to learn from new experience in order to respond quickly to changing circumstances (Tran, 2019). VUCA requires different thinking; there is a need to stop trying to solve problems at the same level of thinking that we were at when we created them (Albert Einstein Quotes, n d). A new approach to organizational culture is needed as organizations are compelled to modify their practices to suit the demands of the VUCA environment. Difficult though it may be, the tenets of organizational culture must still guide the organizations’ leaders who need to maintain the norms, values and beliefs of their organizations, while thinking out-of-the-box.

The Essence of an Organizational Culture in a Business World

With the business world in a chaotic situation, and with a variety of new niches, products, services, ideas, solutions and changing customer preferences (Lobaugh, Stephens & Simpson, 2021); it is difficult for leaders to know where to turn to and what to choose from. Input is coming from everywhere as to how to manage businesses, the best practices that must be used, and the new theories to follow. How then can leaders navigate in this whirlpool? Organizational culture was, and still is “among one of the most important variables determining a company’s success or failure’ (Azanzaa, Morianob & Molerob, 2013, p. 45).

A well-crafted organizational culture can bring about a solid foundation for values, stability, adaptability and cohesion, as well as resilience, and the ability to thrive in a VUCA environment.

Values: Culture defines the solid values on which decision-making is based in organizations; it outlines the expectations that are important in organizational functioning.

Stability: Culture provides stability; a sense of continuity; the norms, values, and beliefs that guide decision-making.

Adaptability: organizational culture should be adaptable, flexible and easily adjustable in the face of new challenges, changing circumstances as well as new opportunities.

Cohesion: establishes cohesion within an organization by encouraging shared identity, oneness of purpose, as well as shared commitment to the organization’s mission and goals.

Having thus presented the value of organizational culture to a business organization, what kind of culture must be cultivated to counter the elements of VUCA? What must this glue be able to do for an organization to thrive and survive in these volatile times?

Table 1: Type of culture to counter VUCA elements


Type of Organizational culture to withstand the elements

Volatility: the unpredictable, unstable, and rapid changes that organizations face (Sullivan, 2012)

When facing volatility, organizational culture needs to be flexible, agile, able to adjust and adapt to sudden external challenges, e.g. shifts in the market, technology, or competitive landscape) that affect the operation of the business.

Uncertainty: inability to make accurate predictions, difficulty in forecasting events and ambiguity in the business environment (Kinsinger &Walch, 2012).

Organizational culture should strive to acquire resilience, fearlessness in taking risks, and an ability to navigate through the uncertainty while remaining focused on the organization’s goals and values.

Complexity: the intricacy, interconnectedness and difficult to understand situations both inside and outside the organization.

Culture should provide clarity in the midst of complexity by promoting open communication and collaboration directed towards overall organisational success.

Ambiguity: lack of clarity in any event; multiple interpretations of available information and situations.

Organizational culture should assist leaders to decipher ambiguous situations by presenting guiding principles in difficult situations, and a common framework for decision-making.

Author’s compilation (2023)

A famous statement by Polonius in Hamlet was: “To thine own self be true.” In the business world, this means that leaders should get back to their founding values and principles; not assimilate but should do what they believe (walk the talk). Despite all the surrounding complexity, if they know who they are, what they stand for, what they believe in, and what is important to them, then it will be easier for them to know how to take advantage of the right opportunities and thus be able to discard all those available but discordant options that do not serve them well. Organizational leaders need to leverage their culture as a source of strength to navigate the challenges of a constantly changing business landscape (Chatman & Cha, 2003). What is needed is an agile business organizational culture. Agility means: “a rapid, whole-body movement with change of velocity or direction in response to a stimulus” (Sheppard & Young, 2006) For the purposes of this research, this refers to the ability of business leaders to change and shift positions in response to various stimuli.

Agile Business Organizational Culture

‍Scholars of the 21st century continue to add characteristics to the definition of organizational culture, and they affirm that culture, as well as leadership are critical for an organization to function effectively, both on a day-to-day basis (Fusch, Fusch, Booker & Fusch,2016) and during times of unprecedented change. Agile business culture is created through consistent and authentic behaviors, not stated in press releases or policy documents; leadership actually “walks the talk” (Wong, 2020); the leadership is guided by deep, underlying assumptions, beliefs, and ways of working that permeate all levels within the organization, and are replicated and passed on to other members.

The literary works of Schein, (2016); Laloux, (2014); Hlupic, (2014) and Senge (2006), attest to the fact that an agile culture within an organization is concerned with creating an environment that is underpinned by values, behaviours and practices which enable these organizations, teams and individuals to be more adaptive, flexible, innovative and resilient when dealing with complexity, uncertainty and change. An organization that behaves in an agile way is marked by adaptability to change; it has a strong core that provides stability with flexibility to adapt and change (Gogate, 2017). Organizational resilience is yet another key quality of culture found in a highly dynamic organization where change is continuous. A resilient culture will teach leaders to watch for and respond to change with ease (Wong, 2020). A culture of innovation is yet another characteristic of an agile organization, and it means that a leader can apply creative thinking to all aspects of the business, even your own cultural initiatives (Tran, 2019, Wong, 2020). Innovation leads organizations to get the most out of available technologies, resources, and markets. Added to these qualities are organizational readiness and willingness to accept change, which are critical cultural qualities with a significant effect on loyalty to the organization (Brymer & Sirmon, 2018).

Key Characteristics of Agile Leaders in a VUCA Environment

Agile culture and agile leadership have a symbiotic relationship (Woodson, 2020; Tognoni, 2018), and research shows that leadership style can make or break the agility of a business (Tran, 2018). Once an agile culture is established, it will go on to define the kind of leadership that is appropriate. There are behaviours and desired characteristics of leadership that promote an agile mindset in leaders in an agile organization, and as such, one critical requisite skill for leadership in a VUCA terrain is agility-savvy leaders who can deal with the information extremes, who do not avoid taking critical decisions to deliver the necessary change. Most organizations operate domestically and globally (Williams, 2022; Stobierski, 2021), so it is critical to have leaders who can lead and thrive in such a global environment. With the need for today’s organization to be repeatedly transformed for it to survive and withstand the effects of its volatile external and internal environment, leaders need to possess more complex and adaptive thinking abilities to face the disruptive change in technology, competitor dynamics, as well as consumer expectations (Ramakrishnan, 2021). They need to develop an ability to respond speedily to change, enter strong collaborative networks, be a master of innovation, as well as uphold ethical practices (Agile Business Consortium Limited, 2023; Tran, 2019). Agility may be the only productive way of working in modern fast-paced times (Strobel, 2023).

To be able to establish the key characteristics of agile leaders in a VUCA environment, the influence of the Chameleon Theory of leadership is drawn upon, and it is a concept that focuses on leaders’ abilities to adjust their attitudes, behaviors and culture perspective to successfully lead in a time such as VUCA. Several advantageous principles exist that can be gleaned from the analogue of the chameleon’s ability to change colour and which are pertinent to VUCA business leadership. First and foremost, when seeing a chameleon, one should not think of a passive animal timidly blending into a tree to keep out of harm’s way. Rather, one should see a strategic creature which chooses to change its colors to reach its goals (Dolgin, 2021). The changing of colour of a chameleon is not only a response to the threats from the external environment , but the deep-seated threats from its internal cell nature, which if not acted upon is more fatal than the predators in its external environment. Chameleon business leadership (CBL) strategy, thus, refers to the situation when leadership changes its style of leadership and its approach to situations (internal or external) that affect its organizational existence so that it can influence specific behaviours or outcomes (Bushor, 2020). Chameleon leaders are adaptive and blend into diverse work environments.

It is a popular misconception that chameleons change their colours only to blend in with their environment (Rafferty, 2022). Rather, this is a mechanism to keep their insides (their core) steady (Dolgin, 2021). In business, this “core” is the values that the organization is built upon, and leadership needs to “change its color, to adapt” based on its internal needs, in relation to the external environment. It means finding the right way to “behave” and to relate to those whom they work with. Chameleons do not ever change their core, but they do have the mechanisms to alter their dimensions to blend in and to survive in unfamiliar environments (Williams, 2022). The CBLs need to know their core (culture) so that they can set their boundaries, limits and conditions for adaptability in whatever VUCA situation they find themselves in, in other words, be able to state their intentionality no matter where the VUCA winds may drive them to. Chameleon leadership means knowing how to be intentional about managing your business “temperature” (Bushor, 2020).

The environmental changes that these business leaders must react to are not only informed by the tenets/ethos of their immediate environment (culture of the organization that they lead; their core), but also by external factors (a pandemic, politics, the economy to name a few). When change happens, either internal or external, their behaviour must conform; chameleon leadership is all about altering one’s traits and leadership tactics rather than one’s core. Chameleons are quiet, often exhibiting stillness and calmness to a new environment ( Stinglhamber, 2011; Mhizha, 2014). Calm leaders observe, listen, and think deeply prior to making strategically reactive and proactive decisions; in that stillness, they become adaptable, and even welcome the status quo as necessary to organizational progression (Williams, 2022). By their colour change, they blend in to chaotic and crisis environments, drawing on their strengths to lead their organizations on.

Another reason chameleons change colours is to signal mood changes to other chameleons who in this research can be referred to as the other players in the business world (Bates, 2014; Anderson, 2014). In business terminology, this is communication. A CBL must be able to communicate with active listening skills, persuasive rhetoric, and influencing nonverbal and verbal tactics (Plester, 2015). Similarly, the CBL can be intentional in their way of dealing with those around them in different situations; being a chameleon does not only mean taking cues from others, but the reverse can also be true. It can be about the leader setting the agenda and signaling to other players around them their agenda, and how they expect them to reciprocate.

A chameleon has sharp vision (Anderson, 2014; Ketter-Katza, Lev-Aric & Katzird, 2020). In like manner, CBLs in a VUCA business terrain must be visionaries, they must have an ability to visualize the path long before others can see it; an ability to see the light at the end of the tunnel and be able to find the direction to follow amidst all the volatility, uncertainty, contradictions, and ambiguity. In a VUCA environment, there must be visionary leadership at every level of the organization. When a chameleon experiences changes in body temperature or mood, it processes that information, and its nervous system commands the necessary colour change, to which it adapts and ensures its survival (Bates, 2014). It is noteworthy that this adaptation is not cast in stone, but that it will repeat this process each time a need arises. There is constant adaptation throughout its life, and this is a process which ensures its survival through the different phases of its life. The same must apply to CBLs, they must be ever ready to adapt to any situation that may present itself in their tenure of leadership.

It has been observed that chameleons are quiet, often exhibiting stillness and calmness to a new environment (Stinglhamber, 2011; Mhizha, 2014). Critical thinking takes place during this stillness; the action to take as well as the proactive behaviors to assume are decided upon. CBLs similarly diagnose problems and situations and then take action according to the situational context presented (Williams, 2022). This calls for an advanced capability of judging and reading situations based on limited data, and then reacting appropriately.

A chameleon normally “toggles gracefully” along very precarious obstacles, such as thin wire or fence. In the business world, the CBL maneuvers in a similar fashion around workplace conflicts and politics; work-from-home challenges, change management, near-impossible team building, efforts in expanding their presence across and beyond their organization, as well as driving their core agenda forward (Dolgin, 2021). Leaders need to develop such critical and intentional self-regulation.

Examining the Problem with a CBL Analogy

A paradox presents itself here: while being a chameleon leader is plausible in many ways, one problem is that of being constantly working to be accepted into the prevailing environment; not for who you are, but for how well you can blend in with the group (Yustantio, 2021). The CBL is obliged to blend into an environment that is created by the values and identity of others. This research presents quite the contrary. As mentioned in the chameleon allegory, it changes colour, not only to take cues from others (its surroundings), but also to take the initiative in signaling its intentions to others as well as setting its own agenda ahead of others. While embodying the traits of a chameleon, the CBL must remain true to who they are, to be steadfast about their values; to be resilient through challenges and to be ready to learn new leadership techniques. The CBL needs to blend persistence with flexibility, to adapt, be agile. They must be aware of what cannot be compromised, but also be willing to adapt their ways to suit the prevailing situation. (Feldstein,2019). A CBL always uses underlying core tenets of their business values in how and why they act (honesty, integrity, people development focus etc), but must also be genuine and flexible.

Research Methodology

This conceptual paper is a qualitative review of articles from databases with information that explore the sustenance of an agile organizational culture leadership in a VUCA business environment. All business articles on organizations which followed any type of leadership deemed as appropriate in VUCA times formed the population.

The desktop research method was used. Literature on organizational culture leadership was systematically selected. Inclusion and exclusion criteria for literature on leadership and organizational culture that is regarded as suitable in VUCA environments was gleaned from critical secondary data sources such as empirical business research publications in top leadership and management journals, company reports, market research reports, newspaper articles and organizational communiques. Various electronic databases were also scanned for published articles. Unpublished papers and editorial studies were excluded. Qualitative data were identified and were thematically analyzed.

Determining Sample Sources

The selection of relevant studies used the inclusion and exclusion criteria, whereby publications referred to had to be pertinent to the combined topics of organizational culture, agile organizational culture and leadership as well as VUCA. The search yielded 544 hits of articles that were closely related to the combined topic of leadership and organizational culture in VUCA terrain. Only 98 were very close to the topic under consideration. The subject of organizational culture and leadership have been trending for decades; have been fervently researched and have now reached quite a high degree of maturity to have yielded more hits, were it not for the combination with the fairly recent topics of VUCA (and agility) in the business terrain (Mathebula, 2017; Saleh & Watson, 2017). This therefore became the sample, and they had to have been published in English from the years 1990 (when the concept of VUCA started gaining new relevance to characterize the business environment and type of leadership required to successfully navigate it) to 2023. The key words: VUCA, organizational culture, leadership and agility were the search strings applied.

Data were reported as accurately as possible in keeping with the research code of ethics (Tripathy, 2013). The study has no geographical limitations as organizational culture vis-à-vis VUCA has spread and found application in the business arena worldwide.

In attempting to answer the research question, themes, and thematic analysis of direct citations on how an agile OCL can be applied in an ever-changing VUCA business environment were gleaned from the reviewed literature and tabulated below in a compilation of the most relevant verbatims. It is the leadership that must initiate the agile culture, walk the talk, that must adopt new ‘agility’ behaviors and then embed them into their workplace culture, supporting the view held by Woodson (2020) and Tognoni (2018) that indeed agile culture and agile leadership have a mutual interrelationship. It is the leadership’s behaviours that are examined and tabulated in Table 2 below.

Table 2 shows the agile behaviours that are supportive of an agile organizational culture in a VUCA environment.

Able to move quickly

With the disruption brought about by VUCA, business leaders need to act fast; (as opposed to slow response to threats); to make and execute decisions quickly, while at the same time, taking heed of careful planning and successful strategy (Agile Business Consortium Limited, 2023, Ramakrishnan….., Tran,2019).

Master of innovation

Convert good ideas to become reality; convert knowledge and ideas into new products or services, new or improved processes to obtain competitive advantages. (Guell, 2022, Tran, 2019).

Master of strategy

Ability to change style of leadership and approach to situations (internal or external) that affect organizational existence to influence specific behaviours or outcomes without changing their core values (Bushor, 2020, Dolgin, 2021, Williams, 2022); show strategic direction and intent

Conservative, cautious, logic-driven

Like a chameleon, agile leaders remain calm in new and unfamiliar environments; observing and thinking deeply before making strategically reactive and proactive decisions (Stinglhamber, 2011; Mhizha, 2014), or welcoming the status quo by blending in with the chaos (Williams, 2022).

Uphold ethical practices

Have “people skills”, are intentional in dealing with other industry players in different situations; are able to communicate with active listening skills, persuasive rhetoric, and influencing nonverbal and verbal tactics (Plester, 2015; Tran, 2019); walking the talk, leading by example.

Visionary and forward thinkers

An ability to visualize a path on the horizon long before others can see it; to find a direction to follow amidst all the volatility, uncertainty, contradictions, and ambiguity (Bates, 2014).


Agile leaders build teams, they do things together and demonstrate commitment, cohesion and engagement, thereby obtaining collective wisdom, long-lasting partnerships, and relationships (Hayward, 2021; Cleveland & Cleveland, 2018).

Readiness to Adapt

Agile leaders find impactful ways to adapt when they encounter uncertainty and complexity (Deglise & Brown, 2020; Attar & Abdul-Kareem, 2020).

Creative and innovative

They have a growth mindset, inspire new ideas and make room for improvement; always evolving; willing to break new ground by breaking the status quo (are disrupters); they do not shy away from risk-taking, mistakes and failure (Chambers, 2021; Deglise & Brown, 2020).

Author’s own compilation (2023).

Discussion of findings

The world is indeed evolving at an incredible, breath-taking pace; change is everywhere, and is changing the way of life as it has been known. This time of change requires agile and adaptive leaders; people who can make quick and effective decisions. Such leaders can move quickly and easily from one area of management to another; manage a diverse range of complex services and are able to adapt to a fast-changing business environment quickly and smoothly. With technology advancing at an even faster pace, the agility of business leaders will indeed become a business imperative (Hayward, 2016). Agile leaders are those that can move quickly and easily from one area of management to another, depending on the given stimulus for change. They are also able to manage a diverse range of complex business situations and able to adapt smoothly to the fast-changing business environments presented by the VUCA terrain. For their businesses to survive, lessons learnt from the chameleon type of leadership are pertinent. It continually adapts itself to the prevailing environment, guaranteeing its survival, and this adaptation is not permanent, but will be repeated as the need arises, resulting in constant adaptation throughout its life. As such, agile leaders need to ensure that they promote an agile culture where learning, developing, and evolving never stop, and no end goal is ever reached, more so as the continuous learning is derived from constructive feedback, mistakes and failure.

The Leadership, likewise, continues with upholding the behaviours that support the agile culture as it has evidently been proven to provide a solid foundation upon which an organization that is adaptable, flexible and responsive can be built in the midst of complexity, uncertainty and change.

Oganizational Culture Leadership Implications in an African VUCA World Context

The need for agile and adaptive leaders is indeed a business imperative that equally applies to private, public and the not-for-profit sectors. To management, this research presents new and different insights into the evolving role of management in VUCA environments, as well as offering suggestions on how they can successfully respond by evoking agility precepts in both their leadership style and in establishing a responsive agile organizational culture. The prevailing volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity in the business world is not to be feared and resisted but is to be embraced and dealt with using modern solutions.


Organizational culture leadership needs to establish synergies between the internal environment and the external environment. The dictates of the internal nature of organizations should inform how organizations adapt and become agile in juggling the external environment that exerts political, economic and technological pressures on the organization. The internal organizational cell environment is akin to an infested landmine field that needs to be expertly navigated, defined and articulated. Well defined problem structures lead to isolating potential threats to organizational existence. Responding only to pressures from the external environment may result in the internal cell structure bursting and thereby paralyzing the Organization Culture Leadership external environment. The inner core (Organizational Culture Cell) must be the determining factor in how the pressures from the external environment are negotiated. Thus, an OCL philosophy that supports adaptable and agile leadership is the only option for survival in a VUCA Business environment.


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