VUCA leadership in China: Developing Leaders Through All Levels Of The Organization

A client in the automotive industry in China engaged us to help them accelerate the development of their top 200 leaders. We worked together for 18 months in a five-step program to create a cultural change. This helped the leaders to work from a more creative operating model.

Together with the top level leadership team and the HR-department we defined four goals for this program:

  1. A common framework and language to address and improve leadership
  2. Accelerated progress towards short-term organization goals
  3. A foundation for the organization’s long-term growth and leadership agenda
  4. Develop a high-performance culture

About the client

The company was already doing great. Turnover and profits soared over the last year. And still, the CEO of the company intuitively knew something more was needed to realize the ambitious goals for the coming five years. Successfully dealing with changes in the industry required a shift in mindset: from problem-solving and reducing uncertainty to actively engaging with uncertainty, in order to make progress. This required a more creative and engaging leadership style.

A five-step program for culture change and creative leadership

Step 1: Culture Survey

Organizational analysis, individual & team coaching

The program kicked off with a Leadership Culture Survey for the top-level leadership team. This team consists of twelve leaders from different nationalities and backgrounds.

The purpose was to increase their self-awareness of how they show up on a collective level and how they look at their own leadership culture. The survey compares that reality to the leadership culture to the defined optimal culture. The gap between data on their current culture and their desired culture instantly revealed key opportunities for leadership development which we used to design the program.

Based on the outcomes of the culture survey we held several team coaching sessions with the top level leadership team to increase their collective leadership effectiveness. Using the Leadership Circle Profile for this, provided focused competency feedback and revealed the underlying assumptions that are causing a leader’s pattern of strengths and limitations.

Step 2: Identify key competences

Identify key competences and design program for top 200 employees

Together with the top-level leadership team and HR, our consultants identified the key skills for employees. To do this, our consultants first held a workshop with the top level leadership team, using the input from step 1.

Next, we conducted several interviews with people in the organization to identify work barriers and confirm behaviors that overcome such barriers. Based on this, we developed a high-level competency model. This model was the basis for the training program for all top 200 leaders and the rest of the organization.

Step 3: Four-day bootcamp with top 200

Provide meaning to vision 2020 and key competences

One of the highlights of this program was a four day retreat for the top 200 managers in a beautiful location outside Beijing. During these four days, a team of seven Schouten Global consultants worked with all 200 leaders to better understand the current state of their organization, key changes in the environment, their 2020 vision and key skills and actions needed to realize this vision. We organized several activities to let the top 200 leaders experience the key skills required instead of only talking about it.

The essential leadership principles we chose to explore and develop

Analytical Co-Creation

Co-creating is about working together and sharing internal thoughts and ideas on how to create a more efficient way of working. Participants explored this together in an analytical and people-oriented way.

Effective Customer Orientation

Being “customer service oriented” boils down to one idea: helping people. As simplistic as it sounds, this ethos is the key to making it work as an organization.

Objective focused leadership Under Pressure

By simulating a highly competitive environment, we showed participants that the essence of being a successful leader comes from within. Being successful in achieving our objectives follows from your motivations. We worked on the way leaders focus, communicate and follow critical processes.

Empowering others

As a leader, you need to learn how to create a working environment where team members can earn trust and grow in their decision making. In this workshop, we created a typical simulated VUCA environment with a lot of ambiguity and uncertainty. The participants learned what typical behaviors are required to empower others and get the feedback necessary to make the right decisions.

Entrepreneurial Leadership

Entrepreneurial Leadership within organizations is pivotal for creating a sense of ownership in employees. Leaders that know how to think from a business frame of mind will be able to make decisions while looking at the bigger picture, communicate with vision and are focused on the result.

Involvement of the senior leadership team

One of the reasons why the bootcamp created a breakthrough was the involvement and participation of the senior leadership team. The company’s senior leaders consisting of people of all sorts of expertise and backgrounds mixed with the group to reinforce positive behavior, acknowledge and confirm that the participants were on the right track in shaping their core leadership traits.


We are more aligned on our visions than I initially thought”. - A leadership development participant


Step 4: Learning journey for top 200 leaders: 3 x 1 day training program

Deepen the understanding of what it takes to be an effective leader

In groups of twelve, all 200 leaders participated in three interactive workshops:

  1. Ambitions: Coaching for success
  2. Values: Leadership essentials
  3. Strengths: Manage for results

All workshops were based on the principles of action learning with a focus on experiencing. During these workshops various learning techniques were applied, such as exercises and simulations in smaller groups, coaching, role plays, work-related cases, theory, and reflection. In addition, each participant was offered (online) articles, videos, and coaching.

Step 5: Closing workshop with participants and top leadership team

Harvest the learning and express leadership commitment

During the last workshop, participants were joined by two members of the top leadership team to harvest their learning and express their leadership commitment. Before the workshop, each participant had a dialogue with their manager to discuss their leadership journey and what he or she would continue to act on going forward.

During the workshop, participants worked on various cases to practice the skills from previous modules and discuss which element would help them most in realizing their personal and company objectives. Based on their conclusions, participants prepared a presentation to share their key learnings and leadership commitment.

Our Conclusions

How to help your leaders succeed in a VUCA world

In an uncertain environment, it is crucial to have a clear vision of the value you want to create as an organization. During each of the workshops, we linked the skills we were practicing (how) to the vision (why).

  • Train participants in being flexible and provide them with a broad range of leadership behaviors that can help them to move forward no matter the situation
  • Balance the ‘doing’ and ‘being’ part. Continuously integrate values and beliefs when practicing new skills
  • Always see the big picture; train participants to look from all perspectives
  • Get participants used to being uncomfortable. Resist the temptation to cling to outdated, inadequate processes and behaviors. Enjoy the adventure!
  • Create a culture where people are not afraid of discussing the ‘undiscussable’
  • Stimulate curiosity. Provide space for the group of participants to make their own decisions. Offer online resources so participants can continue their journey whenever, and wherever they want
  • Develop internal networks that can support each other
  • Leverage diversity, this way multiple points of view are included all the time
  • Keep acknowledging participants; it’s not an easy journey and participants need to overcome a lot of barriers. Acknowledgement is key to keep engagement high. Focus on building strengths vs. correcting people

Develop your leaders 

For us at Schouten Global, helping leaders to succeed in a VUCA world centers around creating powerful, facilitated encounters that recreate reality. We pride ourselves on developing leaders who have sufficient agility, dynamics, and responsiveness to navigate through the VUCA landscape. If you’d like to discuss leadership development and culture change, please don’t hesitate to reach out.