This is the sequel to our first post on Navigating Disruption, in which RUPT is offered as an acronym that stands for Rapid, Unpredictable, Paradoxical, and Tangled. CCL’s research indicates that RUPT more readily connects the experience of turbulence with the leadership necessary to navigate that turbulence than does the more commonly-used acronym VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity).

The essential question addressed by leaders when confronted by turbulence is: “How do I make my best judgment in turbulence?

Theodore Zeldin, in “An Intimate History of Humanity” (June 2012), provides some clues for how leaders navigate, make their best judgment, and lead more effectively in turbulence:

“The fact that the world has become fuller than ever of complexity of every kind may suggest at first that it is harder to find a way out of our dilemmas, but in reality the more complexities, the more crevices there are through which we can crawl. I am searching for the gaps people have not spotted, for the clues they have missed.”

CCL’s research and practice suggests a whole new mindset, skillset, and toolset for making sense of and navigating RUPT – “finding the crevices through which to crawl.”

  • Changing our minds about leadership
  • Developing and practicing learning agility
  • Developing leadership across the divides typically found in complex challenges
  • Tapping and developing neglected creative leadership competencies in order to reframe and resolve complex challenges
  • Leveraging Polarities inherent in complex challenges

Changing Our Minds about Leadership

CCL has developed a systems view of leadership. The starting point for this is to recognize that leadership is a process, not a person.

Since it is a process, it will have inputs and outcomes. The outcomes of effective leadership are shared direction, alignment, and commitment. All 3 are essential.

In other words, in order to work effectively as a group: there should be shared agreement on the goals; the work should be well distributed; and everyone should feel mutual responsibility for the well-being of the group.

Defining leadership in this way enables groups to quickly determine whether leadership is on track for effective completion of the work, and thus be able to discuss and adjust for one or more of the outcomes.

Developing and Practicing Learning Agility

Since the turbulence of RUPT is relentless and nothing can be taken for granted, learning agility is essential.

Author George Hallenbeck (2016) defines learning agility as: “the ability and willingness to learn from experience and subsequently apply that learning to perform successfully under new and challenging conditions.” Hallenbeck goes on to say: “It is an essential skill for leaders during times of change when both problems and their solutions lack clarity.”

Learning agility invokes a meta cognitive skill and practice that author Peter Vail describes as “noticing yourself noticing.”

In the RUPT environment, we don’t have the luxury of relying entirely on sending our leaders through leadership development experiences.

We have to reframe or flip the 70-20-10 model discovered by Lombardo, Eichenger, and others (where 70% of the way leaders develop is through challenging assignments, 20% through mentoring, and 10% through designed experiences) so that the real-life challenges and mentoring become part of the 10%.

The developmental experiences must be designed around leaders’ actual complex (RUPT) challenges, so that they are equipped with the mindset, skillset, and toolset to handle these and further challenges.

Developing Leadership across What Divides Us

CCL has researched and developed tools and processes that enable leaders to collaborate effectively across various forms of divides found within and external to their organizations. This enables leaders to create shared direction, alignment, and commitment across these divides so that they collaboratively develop innovative solutions to their RUPT challenges through a process of:

  • Creating safety within their own groups;
  • Genuinely respecting differences with others;
  • Developing personal trust with others with whom they need to collaborate;
  • Building community, and true lasting interdependence.

Tapping Neglected Creative Leadership Competencies

The work of Palus and Horth identified 6 competencies for navigating complex challenges.

The mindset, skillset, and toolset emerging from this work enables leaders to move from RUPT, as it is currently experienced, to new ways of thinking, reframing, and navigating the turbulence they are experiencing.

Four of the competencies described by Palus and Horth present options for reframing and navigating RUPT. These are supported by 2 other competencies they call

  • Personalizing: bringing more of who you authentically are to your leadership; and
  • Serious Play: an essential component of learning agility.

Navigating-RUPT Infographic

Leveraging Polarities Inherent in Complex Challenges

When leaders are confronted with complex challenges amidst RUPT, they tend to tap their well-developed problem-solving skills.

Such an approach can add even more complexity. Leaders need to take their thinking to a new level by recognizing seemingly unresolvable challenges not as problems to be solved but as polarities to be leveraged – to develop a mindset shifting from “either/or” thinking and decision-making to “both/and” (and “either/or”).

When faced with the complex challenges riddled with competing priorities, a problem-solving approach applied independent of polarity thinking can lead to the worst of both worlds: a move towards the greatest fear associated with each dimension of the challenge rather than the desired and greatest purpose of thinking and acting in terms of polarities.


Dis-rupt-tion happens when RUPT is in play and leadership fumbles. For example:

  • When an organization is not agile, or it over-relies on prediction, to the detriment of adapting;
  • When the paradoxical tension between rapid adapting and stable predicting (to name just one of many paradoxical tensions) freezes leadership; or
  • When rapid, unpredictable paradoxes are embedded in “tangled” cause-and-effect chaotic systems, triggering reactions that are more subjective rather than linear or logical.

The RUPT environment in which we live, lead, work, and play is ever-present in our world today. We have to constantly and mindfully adapt to what we are confronted with.

At CCL, we have built on our own and other wise researchers and practitioners to provide a repertoire of mindset, skillset, and toolset that will help leaders consistently make their best judgments and lead most effectively in times of turbulence.

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