With the UK voting to leave the European Union, the torrid race for the White House now over (no matter on which side you lean politically) and currently no government at all in Spain, there is change — and lots of it — across the globe. International trade agreements are now far from certain, policies are up for grabs and alliances shifting.
One of the biggest changes is also the increase in interdependence and complexity, driven largely by new communication technologies and economic globalisation. A great example, which we hear many of our own clients are grappling with, is that traditional business relationships with their customers, competitors and suppliers are becoming increasingly ambiguous and complex. How do we effectively partner with competitors or customers for key initiatives whilst continuing to compete with or serve them in the normal day-to-day world?
And so with a world of uncertainties, many more seemingly to come, where do we turn to shore up our businesses, ensuring they are best protected from whatever lies ahead? How do we plan when we can only guess our future? Where is the best place to focus our future-proofing skills?
Enter agile leadership. There’s a reason why it’s a really hot topic online at the moment – and one we’re discussing more and more with clients right now. Leadership ‘agility’ is recognised as one of the most important skills for individual leaders, teams and indeed whole organisations. It’s about overcoming traditional silos and the need to increase effective collaboration both within and between organisations in response to rapid change. It’s also focused on taking sustained effective action.
According to Global Talent 2021, a study conducted by Oxford Economics and Towers Watson in 2012, agile thinking is considered one of the top leadership skills in highest demand through to 2020. The ability to consider and prepare for multiple scenarios was considered the most desired skill.
Other research shows that companies whose leaders operate at higher levels of agility are also more flexible as organisations and deliver stronger business performance, leading their market and setting the pace, rather than struggling along in the wake of more responsive competitors.
So what makes an Agile Leader?
Is your organisation — or you as a leader — truly agile or agile enough? Take a few minutes to read through these nine skills which we’ve identified both from our own experience and from recent external research.
Agile leaders are clear about their long-term vision and goals but flexible about how to get there. When there are multiple options, having an eye on the horizon and a clear view of where you are going is vital for a leader to develop and communicate.
2. Clarity and Understanding
The agile leader sees through the bombardment of new ideas and data to a future that others cannot yet see. They have that rare ability to ‘see the wood from the trees’ and communicate that with clarity to others.
3. Collaboration and Partnering
Agile leaders are able to collaborate effectively and build tangible value for their partners as well as for their own organisation. They create new opportunities and space within which collaboration and mutual success can happen and thrive.
4. Building Trust
Trust is vital when asking others to follow you in an unpredictable world. Agile leaders move with speed and that requires trust from others. Without Trust there is nothing.
5. Openness to People and Ideas
Agile leaders go beyond the traditional command and control leadership style and recognise the need to be open and transparent. They also make it easy for people outside their organisation to notice their transparency and communicate it to others.
6. A Commitment to Lifelong Learning
Agile leaders remain open to new learning. In an unpredictable world, they look out for ‘immersive learning’ opportunities such as learning by experimentation and hands-on involvement and seek out new and unfamiliar environments to hone their skills and learn from these new situations in an experiential way.
7. Creativity and Innovation
The best way forward isn’t always obvious. Agile leaders understand the need to develop creativity within an innovation process which delivers sustainable value. We find this is often shown by new, maybe surprising, collaborations, by really understanding your customers’ changing business needs and creating a culture that expects challenging behaviour from its people, rather than rewarding safety and compliance.
8. Personal Courage and Resilience
Because doing things differently may get pushback! Knowing something is intellectually the right thing to do will not be enough to persuade others to follow. Agile leaders need resilience and personal courage to take the lead into unknown territory and challenge those who may stand in their way.
9. Leading at the Speed of Change
Agile leaders are expert in implementing change quickly and effectively. They understand the organisation’s systems that need to be aligned to deliver change as well as how to harness the hearts and minds of those who need to work together – to overcome resistance and to deliver change at high speed. They also understand the value of getting new ideas through the system quickly even if they are not perfect and actively learning from any ‘failures’. They recognise that 60:40 is the new 80:20!
How can you develop your agile abilities?
Hopefully by now you’re convinced leadership agility will be key to positively embracing change. Take the next step by testing your own skills in our free leadership agility questionnaire. You can identify your strengths and perhaps those aspects where you need to develop still further to be truly agile. You’ll also be able to download a personal report with your own score, benchmarked against other leaders and hints and tips.Take the agility test now
For further information or your comments, please contact Judith Hirst at firstname.lastname@example.org