Wellbeing in the workplace: exploring the VUCA approach


  • Debbie Holley Bournemouth University
  • Kate Coulson University of Northampton
  • Carina Buckley Southampton Solent University https://orcid.org/0000-0003-3101-2525
  • Erika Corradini University of Southampton




This workshop was aimed at aspiring leaders/leaders/those interested in models of wellbeing and resilience. VUCA stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity, a leadership model based on the theories of Bennis and Nanus from the late 1980s (https://www.vuca-world.org/). Leaders are often required to navigate uncertainties, paradoxes, conflicts, pressures and ambiguities. The VUCA model calls for new approaches to management centred on a personal approach and is extensively used in intercultural business masterclasses (University of Cambridge; MIT; Jagannath International Management School Kalkaji, India).


The model inspires and encourages leaders to move from the idea of the leader who ‘knows all’ towards a vision of developmental leadership. This approach clarifies the leader’s ability to develop others’ capacity to handle problems and make difficult decisions, based on the idea that every individual can contribute their skills. In strategic terms, leading in a VUCA world requires Vision, Understanding, Clarity and Adaptability/Agility. Learning development is starting to embrace this model of leadership, with a new ALDinHE Leadership CoP offering a platform for sharing both theory and practice. The overarching aim of this approach is that of conveying positive energy into the development of meaningful approaches.


The VUCA model relies on six key skills, all of which connect to the values of learning development:


  1. Developing a shared purpose.
  2. Learning agility.
  3. Self-awareness.
  4. Leading through collaboration and influence.
  5. Confidence in leading through uncertainty.
  6. Growth mind-set.


This was a creative discussion-based workshop and we aim to co-create a JLDHE article with interested participants. We have interested participants from the ‘International Women’s’ day workshop we ran, and we wanted to further broaden out this scholarship opportunity to the learning development community. The ALDinHE Leadership CoP are considering how best to feed into notions of a leadership toolkit to support the community. 

Attendees of the VUCA workshop were asked to read the following two articles prior to the session:


Author Biographies

Debbie Holley, Bournemouth University

Debbie Holley is Professor of Learning Innovation at Bournemouth University. A National Teaching Fellow and a Principal Fellow of AdvanceHE she is a passionate educator, with expertise in learning design and blending learning to motivate and engage a diverse student body. Her research interests in digital, augmented and immersive worlds influence national policy through her published work, keynote addresses and policy articles.

Kate Coulson, University of Northampton

Kate Coulson is currently Head of Learning and Teaching Enhancement at the University of Northampton. She is passionate about the importance of LD advocacy to ensure that our work is understood and valued and has a particular interest in working within the 3rd space and women’s leadership within HE. Kate is an Advance HE Senior Fellow and a Certified Leading Practitioner in Learning Development.

Carina Buckley, Southampton Solent University

Carina Buckley is currently Instructional Design Manager at Solent University, responsible for the on-going development of the VLE as a student-centred, active and inclusive learning space. Her research interests broadly connect to collaboration and community, and have evolved recently to explore ideas around leadership and professional identity. She serves as the Treasurer for ALDinHE and also sits on the steering group for the International Consortium of Academic Language and Learning Developers (ICALLD). Following a PhD in Archaeology in 2006, she has since added Advance HE Principal Fellow and Certified Leading Practitioner in Learning Development to her post-nominals.

Erika Corradini, University of Southampton

Erika Corradini is a Principal Teaching Fellow in Academic Practice in the Centre for Higher Education Practice (CHEP). The remit of her role is to develop education and educators in the HE sector. She is currently Programme Lead for the Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice, a professional development programme aimed at early career academics with teaching responsibilities. Her research activity is largely centred on developing learning and education through evaluating teaching practice and through promoting the scholarship of teaching and learning.


Culpin, V. (2018) ‘Leading in a VUCA world’, HULT blog. Available at: https://www.hult.edu/blog/leading-in-a-vuca-world/ [Accessed: 14 October 2022].

HULT Education, ‘Lessons leaders can learn from those living through change’. Available at: https://www.hult.edu/en/executive-education/insights/learning-to-lead-in-the-21st-century/ (Accessed: 9 September 2022).

Sinha, D. and Sinha, S. (2020) ‘Managing in a VUCA world: possibilities and pitfalls’, Journal of Technology Management for Growing Economies, 11(1), pp.17-21. https://doi.org/10.15415/jtmge.2020.111003.

VUCA-WORLD [website]. Available at: https://www.vuca-world.org/ (Accessed: 15 October 2022).




How to Cite

Holley, D. ., Coulson, K., Buckley, C. and Corradini, E. (2022) “Wellbeing in the workplace: exploring the VUCA approach ”, Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education, (25). doi: 10.47408/jldhe.vi25.954.

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