By David Cooper
While there is no quick fix that solves the need for increased leadership agility, there is a path to developing the skills, behaviors and mindset necessary to build the reflexive, adaptive and decisive action that creates agile leaders and agile organizations. Just like courage and leadership, agility isn’t confined to personality traits – it is primarily, and most effectively, a form of action that is made habitual by practicing over time.
Leadership agility is not something we have; it is something we do. It requires a development of core strength and muscle memory – skills and tools we learn to leverage more quickly because of hard work and practice. Right now organizations can’t rely on the “agile” few who have experienced crisis before and are adept at finding the answers in amongst the chaos; we all need to develop our own awareness, responsiveness and collaborative approach to prepare ourselves for an uncertain future.
So how do organizations build leadership agility?
We think that there are five key drivers that taken together provide the route to building any leader’s core strength for adapting and responding quickly and effectively to disruption and rapid change. By exploring each of the five drivers, individuals can develop the muscle memory that makes effective action possible. These drivers can also create a powerful feedback loop to ensure that learning from one situation is quickly assimilated and applied to future challenges.
The five drivers are:
Readiness and Scanning
Leaders need to be able to look ahead, preparing and actively seeking information that will help to contextualize situations and anticipate future opportunities. It can be difficult for leaders to lift their heads and take time to actively engage with bringing the outside in, but it is a vital capability that underpins all leadership agility.
Awareness and Self-Management
Leaders need to constantly work to find a balance in disruption by understanding themselves. Using reflection and dialogue, leaders must consider their own biases and preferences and develop strategies for monitoring their reactions and approach to enable agility in themselves and others. The core skills of leadership action – the ability to notice, decide and act to provide meaning, value and structure for others, at pace – also inform this driver.
Communicating and Inspiring
In the face of disruption and rapid change, leaders need to provide information and guidance to help others understand the situation and its impact, as well as the objectives, actions and roles that are required to move forward. Communications skills are difficult to develop generally and the shift to the need to communicate to more remote and hybrid teams makes the challenge even harder. Leaders need to help make sense of context, purpose, strategy and action for everyone, providing clarity and connection.
Fixed mindsets will not enable a leader to flex and move fast enough in disruptive times. Leaders need to challenge themselves to take a more holistic view of their current context, considering which leadership skill sets and behaviors are required. Leaders need to be action-focused and need to quickly identify levels of risk before initiating change and shifting direction quickly. The concept of “fail fast and learn” underpins this driver.
Collaboration and Integration
A leader’s ability to align their leadership action across the business, with a clear view of the interdependencies and needs of others, will better enable people to work together effectively. Leaders need to be focused on action that connects people, systems and the organization as a whole. It recognizes that collaboration and integration are dynamic processes, requiring leaders to make real-time adjustments, and it focuses on applying learning to enable continued agility, muscle memory and core strength.
Ultimately, leadership agility must be developed through deliberate practice. Learning does not flow automatically from experience; it must be drawn out through an intentional process of reflection and experimentation. All leaders should consider the core strengths they have demonstrated through the pandemic and test those against the five drivers of leadership agility.
Reflecting on experience in relation to each of the five drivers and converting these reflections into intentional action will help all leaders to meet the needs of today whilst strengthening the foundations needed to operate in the unpredictable and rapidly evolving post-COVID world.
David Cooper is a senior consultant at Impact International. Connect with David at www.linkedin.com/in/davidcooperjr/.