Thursday 16 October 2014

Managing Chaos: Lessons for Caregivers From Military Special Forces

The world of illness, disability and caregiving is peppered with terminology from the battleground.  We 'battle' cancer.  We 'fight' to get our loved ones the services they need.  We don't invite friends over because our houses look like 'a bomb went off'.  When the going gets very tough for caregivers, it certainly feels like we're operating in a war zone.

The other day, I was listening to a banker talking about the volatility of financial markets.  She used a word I hadn't heard before - VUCA.  It's a military term used by forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and it stands for 'Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous'.  "Wow", I thought, "there must be lessons here for caregivers!"
So, I googled VUCA and found a website about using military lessons learned for corporate leadership.  And my intuition didn't steer me wrong - these lessons really are absolutely relevant to caregivers.  Because our world is always volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

  • Always retain a clear vision against which judgements can be made, with agility to flex and respond appropriately to rapidly unfolding situations.

  • Provide clear direction and consistent messaging against a backdrop of continually shifting priorities, supported with the use of new virtual modes of communication where necessary.
  • Anticipate risks but don’t invest too much time in long-term strategic plans. Don’t automatically rely on past solutions and instead place increased value on new, temporary solutions, in response to such an unpredictable climate.
  • Think big picture. Make decisions based as much on intuition as analysis.
  • Capitalise on complexity. If your talent management strategy is working, then you should be confident that you have the right people in the right place. This will enable you to rapidly break down any challenge into bite size pieces and trust in the specialist expertise and judgement of those around you.
  • Be curious. Uncertain times bring opportunities for bold moves. Seize the chance to innovate.
  • Encourage networks rather than hierarchies – as we reach new levels of interconnection and interdependency collaboration yields more than competition.
  • Leverage diversity – as our networks of stakeholders increase in complexity and size, be sure to draw on the multiple points of view and experience they offer. Doing so will help you expect the unexpected.
  • Never lose focus on employee engagement (here, think of the doctors and home nursing team, if you have one - even your extended family).  Provide strategic direction, whilst allowing people the freedom they need to innovate new processes, products and services.
  • Get used to being uncomfortable. Resist the temptation to cling on to outdated, inadequate processes and behaviours. Take leaps of faith and enjoy the adventure.
Each of these elements of VUCA has great resonance for caregivers.  Some are easier than others to implement, but many of them tell us what we already know (but forget in a crisis or in a moment of self-doubt).  'Get used to being uncomfortable' is a lesson all caregivers must learn and re-learn every day.  But taken together, all these elements of VUCA give us reassurance that being uncomfortable is A-OK and just a natural way of being when dealing with adversity. 

My book, 'The Four Walls of My Freedom: Lessons I've Learned From a Life of Caregiving' (House of Anansi Press), is available now from all major booksellers in the USA and Canada. 

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