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agile leader

Leadership may not be our oldest discipline, but it has been around long enough to raise quite a herd of sacred cows. Around the world, companies have invested huge amounts of time – and other, harder currencies – in developing hierarchical organisational structures, writing procedural manuals, designing (and, where that doesn’t sound grand enough, engineering) internal processes. But there’s a problem.

If all this planfulness is going to succeed, the world must behave predictably. Because A and B will happen, we will do X and Y so that we are prepared. Unfortunately, the world moves more quickly and randomly than that: if you’re looking for predictability, look behind you.

This means, of course, that there is a problem with Leadership Development. If you have the wrong concept of leadership – firmly in control, rigidly top-down, not just process-driven but process-compliant – then your approach to developing leaders will be similarly out of alignment. You will be developing people to lead in a world that no longer exists, training them to believe that they will spend their days calling the shots when it is more likely that they will be dodging them. This world calls for a different kind of preparedness.

To borrow Donald Rumsfeld’s famous categorisation, leaders don’t face ‘known unknowns’: situations they’ve not previously encountered but where a dash of additional knowledge will see them through. They face ‘unknown unknowns’: situations that can’t be foreseen or rehearsed, and where the prerequisites for success are adaptability, flexibility and responsiveness. Jack – and Jill – operate in a world where the candlesticks they must jump are ever more frequent and ever taller: to clear them, they must be nimble.
(This has implications for the people being led too, of course. It’s not like coaching a player for Wimbledon, where the draw determines that they will face Nadal tomorrow and then Djokovic if they’re successful, and each opponent’s tactics can be dissected in advance. It’s more like coaching a team for a Davis Cup tie, where each player can be called on at short notice as being the most suitable to face a particular and possibly equally unannounced opponent. It’s that difference, but more so: the players must be more empowered, less managed and more led.)

If accurate definitions depend on understanding, one word frequently associated with leadership is worth a moment’s reflection: ‘dynamic’. Though it was derived from the Greek word dynamikos meaning ‘powerful’, its first adaptation in English was not in the realm of management, but of physics and philosophy: the meaning was concerned with the effect of forces on the motion of objects. Being ‘dynamic’ is about remaining in motion and being ever-changing, because external forces will continuously buffet, push and shove. In the management sphere, the word has acquired additional uses – driving, energetic, aggressive – that might apply to effective agile leaders, but they are not its most important characteristic.

To be agile and dynamic, leaders need to be:

  • Open – to ideas, options and alternatives, as other ways of doing or behaving may be more appropriate and effective: too many ‘golden rules’ can easily create a gilded cage. They are open to people too, as agile leadership depends on teams that are both able and willing: agile leaders realise that they cannot inspire people they neither know nor understand
  • Aware – of both threats and possibilities, and of the fact that either – or both – may come to pass; of the skills and motivations of others, so they can be put to best, and most willing, use; of needs, so they can be met. Above all, they are aware of themselves. Agile leaders need emotional agility: the ability to recognise their own patterns of response and to manage their behaviour so they don’t become trapped in patterns that help neither them nor their organisations
  • Enabling – agile leaders lead by example rather than edict. They don’t order things to happen: they help their organisation make them happen, which can sometimes mean learning not to stand in the way. They support and encourage others who are willing to innovate and to face challenges, and they offer as much clarity as each situation allows to enable everyone to identify and develop solutions. They don’t manage for results, as they know the world is too uncertain: they manage in order to create environments that enable results through collaboration, communication, transparency and innovation, valuing the feedback that serves to keep senses alert.

These aren’t the only qualities, of course – to find out more, read about our Agile Leader programmes, or visit us on stand G80 at the World of Learning Conference and Exhibition on 19-20 October (more details are given on our Events page).

Alternatively, you can [modal_text_link name=”Agile” class=”” id=””]download our free Agile Leader programmes guide[/modal_text_link] .[/fusion_text][modal name=”Agile” title=”Download File: The Agile Leader” size=”large” background=”” border_color=”” show_footer=”yes” class=”” id=””]Before you go…

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