In a March 2013 Forbes article titled “The Five Dimensions of Learning-Agile Leaders,” Kevin Cashman stipulates that:
“To succeed in our volatile, complex, ambiguous world, we have no choice but to master our ability to adapt and learn.” ClickToTweet
5 Dimensions for Agile Leadership
He then goes on to list five dimensions that are necessary for any leaders aspiring to exhibit agile leadership. These five dimensions are:
• Mental Agility
Thinking critically to penetrate complex problems and expanding possibilities by making fresh connections.
• People Agility
Understanding and relating to other people, as well as tough situations to harness and multiply collective performance.
• Change Agility
Enjoying experimentation, being curious and effectively dealing with the discomfort of change.
• Results Agility
Delivering results in first-time situations by inspiring teams, and exhibiting a presence that builds confidence in themselves and others.
Being reflective and knowing themselves well; understanding their capabilities and their impact on others.
While I agree that all these dimensions/aspects are necessary attributes for prospective leadership in the 21st Century, I see four of them as natural extensions of older leadership theories and not a breakthrough associated with the move into more agile perspective.
The one dimension that, at the very least to me, stands out in the above list is the ‘Change Agility‘ and this will therefore be the focus of this post.
Creating a Journey
One of the key drivers behind the Agile movement is the realization and mental acceptance of the fact that complexity cannot completely be overdone by extensive planning. While planning is always necessary, its effectiveness is subject to the law of diminishing returns where the extended effort in planning will deliver only marginal decreases in uncertainty.
Furthermore, Agile Thinking suggests that rather than engage in extensive up-front planning it would be more cost-effective to engage in a series of explorations, or experiments, each designed and carried out in an attempt to reduce uncertainty and deal with facts and not assertions.
The process of experimentation, reviewing results, making adjustments (adapting) and continuing with further experimentation is not a trivial one. If accepted it can be perceived as carrying a number of risks, the mot obvious of which are:
- Experimentation can be seen, politically and organizationally, as a sign of weakness, lack of direction and hesitation on behalf of the leader.
- Experimentation can result in failure. Experiments do not always yield the expected results. Should an experimented approach be seen as a failure that would reflect badly on the leader and further put in question his/her leadership qualities (see more on this here and here).
There are many rationale reasons one can make to combat the above obstacles. I’ll mention but a few:
- One of the key attributes expected of a leader is that of courage. Need I say more?
- If you are concerned about failure you miss a golden opportunity to teach your organization that failure is not a crime. The fear of failure stifles innovation and subdues participation. If this how you want your organization to conduct itself?
- Failure is a sure way to learn on route to success. There are ample examples of start-up companies whose declared mode of operation was based on the premise that initial failures are necessary in order to establish a successful path for the future.
The desire for safety stands against every great and noble enterprise. ~ Tacitus, Roman historian ClickToTweet
Leadership At Its Core
If you are looking for a single example of an organization that adopted adaptive leadership as a core value look no further than Statoil. The company is a pioneering organization in the implementation of Beyond Budgeting, a revolutionary approach, defined by its founders as:
Beyond Budgeting is about rethinking how we manage organizations in a post-industrial world where innovative management models represent the only sustainable competitive advantage. It is also about releasing people from the burdens of stifling bureaucracy and suffocating control systems, trusting them with information and giving them time to think, reflect, share, learn and improve. Above all it is about learning how to change from the many leaders who have built and managed ‘beyond budgeting’ organizations.
Practical and Compelling Leadership
The reason I reference this approach (see further information here) is because it is a specific example of the implementation of agile thinking in a strategic leadership context and it demonstrates that agility is not just about tactical and operational matters but it is a practical concept in the context of leadership as well.
If you don’t apply agility thinking to your leadership style you are robbing your organization of the opportunity to advance beyond its current constraints. Experimentation and learning do not require massive risk taking, all it take is a leap of faith.
Think about it!
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Image Sources: blog.mindjet.com
- 3 Ways to Boost your Leadership Agility (inc.com)
- Agile is a business thing – not just an IT thing (nofluffjuststuff.com)
- On Leadership and Personal, Business and Organizational Agility (linked2leadership.com)