Why agile leadership is important

3 minute read
Three-quarters of business executives say agility is a top-three priority for their organisation and nearly 40% are conducting an organisational-agility transformation to support more agile ways of working, Joan O'Connor, head of leadership practice at 10Eighty, looks at why agile leadership is important to business today
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How to build an agile organisation

Being an agile leader is important

In our white paper, The Rise of the Human-Focused Leader, our research looked at the qualities which provide a roadmap of leadership capability. One of these key characteristics is agility – agility in action, decision-making and response in the moment.

According to a study by McKinsey, three-quarters of business executives said agility is a top or top-three priority for their organisation and nearly 40% are currently conducting an organisational-agility transformation to support more agile ways of working.

The agile organisation performs better under pressure because workers have a shared sense of purpose; individuals and teams are empowered to take action and rapid decision-making and continuous feedback prevail.

Agility of action

What is important for leaders is the speed and agility of action, decision-making and execution of strategy in response to changing circumstances and priorities in a dynamic environment. The futureproof leader needs an agile mindset to achieve their goals and positive outcomes in a past-faced and volatile marketplace. But it’s not about speed for speed’s sake. An agile leader also takes the time to continuously listen and learn and uses this to inform their response, rather than reacting with the first thing that comes to mind.

Building agility

The future of work will be more collaborative and co-created by groups of people who traditionally have operated separately. The ability to enable teams to adapt and grow in a  complex enmeshed environment of clients, associates and suppliers is where most leaders will need to focus their effort. It’s not about managing workflow but inspiring and facilitating creativity, collaboration, innovation and knowledge sharing.

Creating the culture

Agile leadership fosters agile participation by engaged  team members. In essence agility resides in empowering teams to bring their best selves to work for leaders who lead by example.

The aim is to attract people who are motivated by a passion for their work and for whom excellence is always the goal. The organisation needs people processes to support such a culture, where employees can demonstrate entrepreneurial drive, taking ownership of team goals, decisions and performance. Without the alignment of processes, agility can come to a grounding halt. 

A human-focused leadership strategy will target the creation of a culture with employee wellness at its heart. There is a growing trend of employees seeking a sense of belonging to something greater, especially in these testing times; aim to optimise the power of individuals by connecting them through their purpose at work.

It’s all about your people and ensuring that employees develop a stronger and more meaningful connection to the organisation’s purpose and have a greater desire to help it succeed. They engage more positively with their leaders, are more willing to go the extra mile and adapt and change direction when asked.

Encourage collaboration

Collaboration underpins agility. Build a team based on trust, transparency and meaningful working relationships. Ensure your team has all they need to operate effectively and then afford them autonomy and accountability within agreed boundaries. Positivity and shared decision making are important parts of a collaborative working environment. Good ideas can come from everyone on the team if you encourage learning, growth and development as a cultural imperative.

Devote time to really exploring the opinion and ideas of the whole team and encourage an ongoing flow of creative thinking; encourage diversity to enable new ways of thinking about challenges.

Change is afoot

The agile organisation doesn’t pigeonhole employees by their function or qualification but gives them the opportunity to work across functions and to see that their ideas and input make a real difference. This is leadership that facilitates team members taking ownership and engaging with every aspect of a project and growing with their jobs. It’s the responsibility of the agile leader to support agile thinking through coaching and development opportunities and guide the team in the right direction.

Agile leadership seeks to remove roadblocks to success so that employees can be more effective and productive. They manage by empowering employees, enabling decision making within the team and encouraging collaboration and knowledge sharing. McKinsey characterises this as “playing to win, seeking diversity of thought, fostering creative collision, embracing risk and experimenting”.

Agility is about adapting and delivering in a sustainable way to address future challenges and remain relevant and competitive.

Joan O’Connor is head of leadership practice at 10Eighty and will be discussing the agile leader with Alexander Filshie, CFO of Kensington Mortgages, at the next LinkedIn Live event in the Meet the Human-Focused Leaders series, on Wednesday 23 February. More details here  

Published 26 January 2022
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