Blue Line


November 26, 2015  By Mitch Javidi

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Developing deliberate strategies in VUCA situations

by Mitch Javidi, Ph.D.


Crisis happens. Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity (VUCA), coined at the Army War College in the early 1990’s (<Mack, et. al., 2015>), is a sobering new reality for police officers and the communities they serve.

In simple terms, VUCA is chaos. It falls on police to understand, prepare for and minimize its disruptive and destabilizing effects.

From a pragmatic standpoint, police deal with VUCA situations from moment to moment. When overwhelmed by stress, some officers are unable to employ the balanced characters of 21st Century policing – that of warrior and guardian. Thus, their cognitive ability is hamstrung, limiting critical decision-making, resulting in a reactionary “crime-fighting” mindset.

Peace keepers have to be trained and developed to balance the technical skills of the warrior and the humanistic character of the guardian-servant.

VUCA demands police learn and develop dynamic tools such as humanistic crisis response and de-escalation (<Arey, et. al., 2015>) to deal with situations that create entropy, a descent into disorder and perhaps chaos, which irreparably damages community relations.

Issues with VUCA may well be best responded through the lens of what is called Counter-VUCA policing, including but not limited to the following:

Volatility: Counter-VUCA policing responds to volatility with shared vision and partnerships. This is basically a joint agency-community vision and subsequent action to construct community projects to enhance wellbeing, supported by local resources, talent and commitment. These joint efforts result in better problem solving and customer service.

One example can be found within the Sacramento Police Department’s Cops & Clergy Program, which educates religious leaders about gang prevention and enforcement, then partners to provide outreach to high-risk youth. Police must collaborate with the community as never before, if only because expectations for law enforcement services are most times inordinately high while the role and limits of policing are inordinately misunderstood.

Uncertainty: Uncertainty is countered by understanding the environment and personal dynamics of policing. Ultimately officers who are well trained technicians and educated as leaders under the ‘whole person’ concept develop emotional balance, which is demonstrated by the ability to stop, look and listen; to establish situational awareness and determine the optimal tactical and/or humanistic response for the situation at hand. For example, uncertainty can be reduced by having a plan for critical incident response. Clearly operational readiness is paramount.

Complexity: Similarly, the modern police leader learns to address complexity with clarity, professionalism and accountability. These are realized by skillful and appropriate situational responses characterized by empathy, procedural justice, trust and transparency; with mutual respect and accountability built over time. Use of force simulators, for example, educate community leaders in police procedures while working to dispel unrealistic expectations and unexpected responses to policing by community members.

Ambiguity: Finally, ambiguity is countered by controlling a potentially confusing situation and agile decision making. These include the ability to take ownership of a community VUCA situation, make deliberate decisions built on the established agency/community shared vision; then move collectively and appropriately to resolution. It is here that skilled problem-solving comes into play. This also means that police leaders, especially young officers in our communities, guide people through change, chaos and uncertainty (<Chacha, 2004>).

Counter-VUCA implies the development of strategies and actions which can prevent if not stave off the worst effects.

Develop the guardian-servant – The first line of defense

The 21st Century, marked by near instant communication, the media and an informed/involved citizenry, demands technically competent police as peace keepers and skilled guardian-servants of the community. Police leadership and especially staff who continuously work on developing a moral compass () and the skills of deliberate leadership () build and establish healthy working relationships with the people they serve. Healthy, meaningful relationships are one of the best ways to counter VUCA.

The new police professional, the first line of defense against VUCA, works on the duality of the technical competencies of policing and building character, marked by integrity, honesty, sincerity, impartiality and intelligence. With that, the community becomes strengthened.

The Matrix Solution – Practical Application of Counter-VUCA

Citizen expectations of police have always been high; the expectations officers have of themselves are higher. Community needs and wants are in many circumstances overwhelming, even unrealistic. Simply put, public institutions cannot realistically provide expected and needed services without collective effort, especially when it comes to ensuring safety, security and wellbeing. The community must be involved in resolving its own problems.

The good news is that there are local answers and resources to problems; all that is needed is to gather key people and organize their efforts – which is actually simple but not easy. This mustering of people forms a matrix of talent and resources chosen as the problem and its solution dictates (<Klopovic, Vasu & Yearwood, 2003>). Mutual problem solving is a counter-VUCA strategy.


Arey, J. B., Wilder, A. H., Normore, A. H., Lannzzo, M., & Javidi, M. (2015). Crisis Intervention Teams: An Evolution of Leadership in Community and Policing. In Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice (pp. 1-7). Oxford Press.

Chacha, J. (2004). 10 pillars of Christian leadership. Wilkesboro, NC: Morning Star Publications.

Keis, K. & Javidi, M. ( 2014). Deliberate Leadership: Creating Success Through Personal Style. Altona, CA: CRG Publishing.

Klopovic, J., Vasu M. & Yearwood, D. (2003). Effective Program Practices For At-Risk Youth: A Continuum Of Community-Based Programs, Civic Research Institute, Inc., New York, NY.

Normand, N., (2015). Interview with Dr. M. Javidi, October, 1, 2015.

Mack, O., Kare, A., Kramer, A. & Burgartz (2015). Managing VUCA World. New York, NY: Springer.

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Mitch Javidi, Ph.D. founded the International Academy of Public Safety, the Institute for Credible Leadership Development and the Criminal Justice Commission for Credible Leadership Development.
He will present a lecture on Day 2 of the Blue Line Conference. Visit for more information.

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