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Are You an Agile Leader?

Laura Goodrich Posted by Laura Goodrich.

Laura is cofounder of On Impact, an integrated content company that specializes in creating and producing videos, television, and multimedia content delivered over time to create sustained change and adoption of important leadership concepts.

Are You an Agile Leader?

“All failure is failure to adapt, all success is successful adaptation”, says Dr. Max McKeown, innovation strategy, leadership and culture expert.

The statement is meaningful in current times when an organization’s ability to fit into new environments or speedily reacting to the change has become more important than ever.

What differentiates a leading organization from others is its readiness to get out of comfort zone. Such an organization adapts to changes brought about by external forces.

This is not a one-time exercise. The organizations operate in a competitive market. They cannot afford to innovate for a quarter and then do nothing for another; because the other organizations are also adopting new ways of working.

In such a scenario, the only way out is to demonstrate agility and flexibility continuously. This is not possible without agile leaders, who are nimble and ready to take on volatility created by the market conditions and the competition. Agile leaders take quick action in such a scenario, course correct while they move ahead and turn these situations into opportunities.

Making something out of nothing, finding sense in apparently unrelated ideas, embracing uncertainty with confidence and inspiring others to transform and break out from norms are crucial skills for agile leaders.

Are You an Agile Leader?

Do you exhibit agility? Are you effectively managing change? Are you inspiring people to get out of their comfort zones and do something that they have never even thought of doing?

To be precise, the question is – are you an agile leader?

Let’s find out with the help of an example. Consider two scenarios:

  1. Mike is working in a packaging solution firm in its design and evolution department. Instead of his creativity he is best known for processes and procedures. His usual management approach is to conduct a morning meeting each day, delegate tasks to each team member, guide them wherever needed and ask them to report in evening to inform him about the developments. Needless to say, the work is completed always on time. But his team members gradually got into a habit of being told what to do and how to do it.
  2. Justin, on the other hand, has an entirely different approach. Instead of delegating tasks to his team members, he asks them to choose their task themselves and figure out on their own how to go about it. It’s an unsaid rule that each team member will choose a different task each time. Though his team goes through a lot of chaos because not everyone is capable of doing everything but ultimately they manage to do the task by working together. Justin’s aim is to push everyone out of their comfort zones and take up challenging tasks, and change ways of thinking and doing things.

Are you more like Mike or Justin?

Both the approaches are opposite to each other. In the first situation, Mike is just managing things and creating followers. While on the other hand, Justin’s approach is making people think and giving them an opportunity to become agile. He is building creative and agile employees who are stronger, smarter, more confident and competent to become future agile leaders. And the beat goes on.

Agile leadership is not about handling people and managing things. It’s about preparing the workforce to face new challenges, acquire new skills and perform well under changing conditions on a continuous basis.

Key Characteristics on Agile Leaders

Agility is not a standalone competency. It’s an amalgamation of a number of interconnected abilities. The above scenario depicts only one aspect of leadership agility. There are numerous other aspects of it.  Let’s take a look:

1. Change is permanent.

Agile leaders accept that the business environment is highly turbulent, fiercely competitive, brutally uncertain and extremely complex. The only way to deal with it is to anticipate more changes, more volatility and emerging threats despite implementing new ideas and initiating transformation on a regular basis.

2. Agility is a conscious and ongoing effort.

You can’t become agile overnight. It’s an ongoing process where you gradually and consciously prepare yourself and your team members to develop the right mind-set, willingness to change old habits and make space for new ones. Though it’s done consciously, an agile leader won’t force anything on her team members. Instead she will help everyone understand the need to be agile.

As an agile leader, you say, “We’re doing this not only to break the norms but to see how it feels to be outside the set patterns and how we manage the risk.” With this, you also answer their question – “What’s in it for me?”

3. Agile leaders believe in shared leadership.

Lao Tzu says, “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”

Leadership agility is not about positions or superiority over others. Its about influencing others and engaging team members in activities that can influence other team members. It is about developing a collective leadership behavior in a team.

As an agile leader, you promote a new way of thinking. You encourage people to become a network of competencies that make them more confident and resilient to operate in the face of uncertainty.

4. Agile leaders don’t over analyze.

An agile leader doesn’t spend too much time analyzing a situation before acting. The idea behind this is that if you keep analyzing things and wait for more information, the chances are you’ll never get it done.

An agile leader is able to synthesize apparently unrelated pieces of information and use it to find out an efficient solution.

5. Agile leaders believe in dynamic management.

Agile leaders build learning organizations. Rather than supporting a vertical hierarchy, agile leaders introduce horizontal communication and ways to interconnect thinking and facilitate shared learning and faster innovation.

6. Agile leaders develop the right mind-set.

Agile leaders know that people can get used to virtually anything, if they are trained consciously; are given plenty of time to ponder and understand; are made to think that they have no choice but to respond to change.

So what exactly do you need to do? You need to help them understand why they have to change the way they have been working for years. You must create an environment of strong trust, in order to make them believe that you really want to help them grow.

7. Agile leaders are open to new ideas.

The main aim of agile leaders is to respond to or introduce change. This is possible only if the company’s workforce is able to innovate quickly and continuously. In such a scenario, agile leaders are open to new ideas, no matter how absurd they sound. They encourage employees to build on their ideas, if there is some reality associated with the ideas.

Leadership agility is not only about breaking the norms or set patterns of doing things. It’s a competitive advantage for you, your people and your organization.

Where do you stand in terms of agility? Which characteristics do you exhibit already? What do you need to adopt to be a more agile leader?

Give some thought to it and find how you can stretch your limits, to emerge as an agile leader.

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