The Leader Who Thrives as a Wellspring of Agility
Here in Switzerland, I am a member of an international Human Resources forum. Recently, several members shared what their employers were doing in the ‘agile business’ space. We participants were enormously enthusiastic as there were valuable insights as to how these companies on-boarded leaders and employees in those initiatives. That discussion sparked a topic that I want to open with you today.
Agile, agility … I would dare say that these words are articulated multiple times per week by 90% of executives, business gurus, IT experts and consultants, while the other 10% is thinking them. Most of the time, they are associated with the things of which great successes or devastating failures are made – competitiveness, cost efficiency, decision making, customer relations, etc. Frankly, it all boils down to leadership and people and the things they do day in and day out.
Then, what does agile mean? According to the Oxford Lexico dictionary, it is “being able to move quickly and easily, or to think and understand quickly.” It also relates that it characterises a type of project management, where tasks are divided “into short phases of work and frequent reassessment and adaptation of plans” (https://www.lexico.com/definition/agile).
Definitions are wonderful! For them to be useful, we best understand them in a particular context and from there we expand the application of the idea in different ways. The agile organisation/business concept is common and there are numerous books on the agile leadership as well. My source for this discussion is the book, Agile Leadership Toolkit, Peter Koning, Pearson Education, Inc., 2020.
My proprietary method of building leaders who thrive is to begin at the base where we raise awareness of whom our client is as a human being in the objective role which can be myriad and is unique to the client and the client alone. Our objective is to partner with them to discover missing pieces of their leadership or life puzzle.
Having engaged with people in this discovery journey, I have observed that most people are dealing with their own version of being agile, first needing to understand it and then beginning to incorporate new behaviours on a personal or a professional level.
Interestingly, agile leadership is not really a new concept, in fact, the foundations are rooted in long standing principles of self-directed teams, delegation, empowerment, and inclusion. This all started when businesses wanted to blur the lines between manager and employees. We may have called them ‘team leader’ and ‘associate’ as we reduced or eliminated any privileges or terminology that distinguished between the two groups.
Unfortunately, we did not necessarily address the competencies of the team leaders as they essentially were as autocratic as ever and did a heck of a poor job of unleashing the power of an aligned, trained, and self-accountable group of people.
For the most part, we are wiser (possibly still grappling with making changes) and after years of streamlining, redefining, and restructuring, we greatly appreciate the need to push more decisions and independence to the staffers closest to the work. There, they collaborate, make decisions, and drive improvements and solutions faster and of a more consistent quality for most operational and even some strategic issues. The ROI is better performance, better customer service, and more emotionally engaged workers who are then more likely to put in more discretionary effort to achieve goals.
The agile leader is the facilitator who creates, nurtures, and cultivates the environment to make it all happen. Thus, how can you become more agile? If it resonates that most people are dealing with their own version of being agile, we can begin simply with discovering your gaps.
Let us focus on one element. On a scale of one to ten, how effective are you in establishing clear objectives IN COLLABORATION with your reports versus handing them down from high, forgoing any chance of course correction or realignment?
Perhaps the next goal setting cycle, you might shift your focus to clarity, i.e., what are the strategic objectives and operationally, what does it mean and why for your team. Plan now to set aside time where cross-functionally your team or the leaders you manage discuss and align on the specifics of actions, timing and metrics, and resources as well as who is accountable and responsible for which pieces.
Subsequently, if you hold the budget, release the funding. I can imagine that really feels scary as in this scenario, letting go of the purse strings is relinquishing power and control. Agile leaders are in the zone of supporting their teams’ ability to think and act confidently and in line with the strategic direction of the organisation, whether the individuals are managing others or are individual contributors. Positional power and control are replaced by asking, influencing, open communications and holding self and others accountable.
Just with the above paragraphs, I feel you can see how much your ability to step into being an agile leader requires a temperament and a manner of dealing where you can move easily and quickly among the various leadership actions required. Potentially, the above scenario may leave you feeling useless or at risk. The reality is, if done well, agility enhances your performance and your personal growth.
I have chosen to speak about agility as it relates to work. To be clear, being agile shows up in all walks of life. For now, the body of knowledge on agile leadership and organisations is expanding exponentially. I encourage you to pick a few resources and build your comprehension of what it takes to be agile and to champion it in your team and your workplace.
Best to you and see you soon!