Leadership ‘agility’ is now recognised as one of the most important differentiators for individuals, teams and indeed whole organisations – but how do you stack up?
Driven by two profound and long-term trends – accelerating change and growing interdependence – leadership ‘agility’ is now recognised as one of the most important differentiators for individuals, teams and indeed whole organisations. In this short article we have aimed to clarify why agility is becoming increasingly important, share some thoughts from our own experiences and also suggest some tips for developing your own agile behaviours.
If you would like to understand even more about the new skills being valued in today’s agile world, we have provided a link to a short on-line questionnaire to allow you to check out your leadership agility.
What’s different now?
Of course, we have always had to handle change but it is the extreme acceleration of change and the unpredictable nature of the world that now poses the biggest challenge for leaders and organisations.
One of the biggest changes is the increase in interdependence and complexity, driven largely by new communication technologies and economic globalisation. A good example here, which many of our own clients are grappling with, is that traditional business relationships with our customers, competitors and suppliers are becoming increasingly ambiguous and complex. As a result, many businesses have recognised the critical importance of overcoming traditional silos and the pressing need to increase effective collaboration both within and between organisations.
And agility is not simply about speeding up in response to rapid change. Whether applied to organisations as a whole, teams or individual leaders, it is also about the ability to take sustained effective action in a world of accelerating change and mind boggling complexity.
According to a global survey conducted by the UK magazine, the Economist, nine out of 10 executives believe organisational agility is critical to business success. This finding echoes that of a previous survey by McKinsey (2010) where they also found that executives around the world believe that, in the 21st century’s turbulent business environment, agility results in faster time to market, improved operating efficiency and more satisfied customers and employees, as well as higher revenues.
So why the leadership agility gap?
In spite of the clear benefits of increased agility, the Economist found senior leaders less than impressed with agility levels in their own companies – with traditional organisational structures, processes and IT systems some of the common culprits. But there was one factor, which stood out above all others and that was their organisational and leadership culture.
Leadership culture and agility
Further studies have shown 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 exactly is leadership agility and can you put it into practice in the workplace? We reviewed a wide range of studies and research – as well as our own first-hand experience working with leaders in a range of global organisations and we have identified 9 dimensions that today’s managers and leaders needs to develop and practice at a high level to be truly ‘agile’.
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. Agile leaders are clear about their long-term vision and goals but very flexible about how to get there.
2. Clarity & Understanding
As we are bombarded with new ideas and data…leaders need to sift through the ‘noise’ and focus on what really matters. The agile leader sees through the mess and contradictions to a future that others cannot yet see. The have that rare ability to ‘see the wood from the trees’ and communicate that with clarity to others.
3. Collaboration and Partnering
The only sustainable way to grow in today’s volatile world is by adding real value. To achieve this truly agile leaders are able to collaborate effectively and build tangible value for their partners as well as for their own organisation. Agile leaders create new opportunities and space within which collaboration and mutual success can happen.
4. Building Trust
Leading others and asking them to follow you in an unpredictable world will sometimes require a ‘leap of faith’. That is what makes trust a key factor. Agile leaders move with speed and that requires trust from others – giving leaders the benefit of the doubt and readily taking risks without the fear of blame.
5. Openness to people and ideas
The best ideas can come from people who may be different to you. Agile leaders go beyond the traditional command and control leadership style, which operates, on the ‘need to know’ principle and recognise the need to be open and transparent about almost everything. 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
Because today’s skills – however good they may be won’t be enough tomorrow! Agile leaders understand this and recognise that they may also need to unlearn some of the things that made them successful in the past. So they make themselves open to new learning in ensure that they stay relevant and agile. In an unpredictable world they look out for ‘immersive learning’ opportunities such as learning by experimentation and hands on involvement and are prepared – and seek out new and unfamiliar environments. They readily learn from these new situations in an experiential way whether this is through business simulations, mentoring, reverse mentoring or shadowing, gaming, ‘back to the line’ or future scenario creation.
7. Creativity & Innovation
The best way forward isn’t always obvious… and it may not be a natural evolutions from previous experience. In a world of accelerating change, small ‘adjustments’ to current strategies, products and services will not be sufficient. Agile leaders understand that they need to liberate their own and others creativity within an innovation process which delivers sustainable value. From our experience, this is often demonstrated by new, maybe surprising, collaborations, really understanding your customers changing business and needs and creating a culture that expects challenging behaviour from its people, rather than rewarding safety and compliance’
8. Personal Courage & Resilience
Because doing things differently may get pushback! Knowing something is intellectually the right thing to do will not be sufficient to persuade others to follow a new direction or walk the path less tread. Agile leaders need the resilience and personal courage to take the lead into unknown territory, to tackle the unknown and challenge those who may stand in their way.
9. Leading at the Speed of Change
Given the mind boggling rate of change, agile leaders are also expert in implementing change quickly and effectively. They understand the organisation’s systems that need to be aligned to deliver change as well as the psychology of engagement that will help them 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 rapid prototyping – 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!
Agility is fast becoming a key measure in modern leadership assessments. In the next few months, we will be looking more closely at each of the above skills, so watch this space!
How agile are you?
Using these 9 dimensions Greenbank have developed a short questionnaire that can help you to look at your own leadership agility and identify your strengths and perhaps those aspects where you need to develop still further to be truly agile. There is also the option to download a personal report with your own score, benchmarked against other leaders and some highly practical hints and tips. This report is currently available free of charge and the questionnaire can be accessed via this link…
Want to know more?
If you would like to understand better how Greenbank has helped our clients improve their agility or would like to explore practical ways that Greenbank might support your own organisation, please contact Judith Hirst on +44 (0)20 8299 4060 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.