Lead Strong Episode 14: The importance of leadership agility

This episode of Lead Strong saw hosts and Directors of Cappfinity’s Talent Practice, Celine Floyd and Stephanie Hopper join with Divya Chadha Manek, Director of Business Development and Marketing at NIHR Clinical Research Network and Nick Clench, Leadership Development Manager at News UK to discuss the importance of agile leadership.

What is agile leadership?

Agile leadership is a leader’s ability to adapt to and deal with complex and often ambiguous situations, either within their own organization or the wider business environment.

This fits with the concept of agility itself, which is rooted in sport and is described as ‘rapid, whole-body movement with change of velocity or direction in response to a stimulus.’  We know that agile leaders will see a stimulus, such as a significant change in their sector and will quickly adapt what they’re doing in response to that stimulus.

Agile leaders can easily switch their focus between often competing or conflicting issues, to move quickly and comfortably between a trivial issue and a strategic matter.

Why do we need agile leaders?

Agile leadership is the key to business performance, to enable sustainability and to encourage growth.

People are generally more enthused by change when it is meaningful to them and can see how it may affect them or how they could make a positive impact.  Divya reflected on her role in working as part of the task force for the Covid-19 vaccine trials last year.  Leaders there were bound by a common purpose – to save lives.

The leaders involved their teams early on and were aware of their strengths, which was crucial in being able to respond to change quickly and bring everyone along on that journey.

Agile leadership does not exist in isolation.  It is holistic, because a truly great agile leader will also consider their team’s strengths and be able to trust them in delivering the end goal.

Change isn’t for everyone

Change to enable growth can be great, but it isn’t always for everyone.  Recent research from Forbes stated that 87% of executives and leaders were excited about change, versus 37% of more junior employees.

Nick explained that people generally like change when they are in control.  Take for example the analogy of driving a car.  The driver doesn’t get car sick because they are in control of the speed and direction of the vehicle, it is usually the passengers who may start to feel unwell.

Highly agile leaders can be prone to seeking out change that may not always be necessary and to push people at a pace they are uncomfortable with to achieve it.  It’s important to acknowledge how your team may feel about change to ensure no one gets left behind.

How can agile leaders bring their people with them?

People generally like change when it is meaningful to them, can say how it may benefit them and are allowed some degree of control or autonomy.  If you can, take the time to check in with your team to find out how they feel about change and how they want to be led.

In crisis situations, such as the one we have just experienced through the Covid-19 pandemic, people may want a different style of leadership.  Divya explained that at her organization, their people wanted a more direct style of leadership, because they wanted to be told what to do in response to the situation.

The important points to remember, whether leaders are leading through planned change or a period of crisis, are to be aware of your strengths as a leader, but don’t be tempted to go it alone.  Build a team around you that works collaboratively and who bring a different perspective.  Take your employees with you on the journey of change, by using their strengths and finding out how they want to be led.

Watch the full episode here.