On Leadership and Personal, Business and Organizational Agility

Agile Leader

The 2012 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting had a discussion session titled “Leadership Models Across Generations.”  The purpose of this discussion was to identify “what leadership traits inspire and engage both younger and experienced generations.

It concluded with the following observations:

The fundamentals of leadership have not changed; yet technology and new generations have transformed the context and style of leadership.

Modern leaders will succeed if they can harness the power of younger generations, while managing the generational divide.

So, while the key aspects of leadership – like setting a vision, determining objectives and measuring outcomes – seem to be timeless, the particulars associated with exhibiting leadership qualities are shaped by the time and place in which they need to be demonstrated.

21st Century Leaders

The challenge for leaders in the 21st Century is to develop and adopt a style of strategic and innovative leadership approach that rather than address the threats of the past is able to quickly adapt and address the opportunities of tomorrow.

This, as observed by Paul J.H. Schoemaker, Steve Krupp, and Samantha Howland in “Strategic Leadership: The essential Skills,” will require the leader to the following:

  • Be exposed to a suitable set of networks to help see opportunities
  • Be able to identify and then challenge self and others’ assumptions
  • Have an adequate approach for getting a diverse group to buy-in to a common vision
  • Learn from one’s mistakes

While there would be various solutions addressing the possible path a leader could take in responding to the above challenge, each of these solutions  will need, at the very least, to comply with and address the observation made above.

For a solution to be a viable, successful and meaningful one, it will need to “harness the power of younger generations, while managing the generational divide.

On Business Agility

One of the emerging trends, especially in the context of software development but also, increasingly, in other domains, is that of Agile, or in the broader sense, the concept of Business Agility.

A 2006 Gartner report defined Business Agility as:

an organization’s ability to sense environmental change and respond efficiently and effectively to that change.

This definition, simple as it might be, lacks clarity and practicality as it deals with the outcome of agility and not with agility itself.

It is worth noting that the Economist Intelligence Unit published a study in 2009, titled “Organizational Agility: How business can survive and thrive in turbulent times“, where it concluded that:

Nearly 90% of executives surveyed by the Economist Intelligence Unit believe that organisational agility is critical for business success. One-half of all chief executive officers (CEOs) and chief information officers (CIOs) polled agree that rapid decision-making and execution are not only important, but essential to a company’s competitive standing. Agility may also be linked to profitable growth: research conducted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) suggests that agile firms grow revenue 37% faster and generate 30% higher profits than non-agile companies.

Interestingly, the report also suggests that alongside the above observations

  1. most companies admit they are not flexible enough to compete successfully“, and further claim that
  2. Internal barriers stall agile change efforts“.

Next-Gen Agility

The apparent increase in the level of Agile adoption (in the area of software development, but also, increasingly, in other domains as well) in recent years seems to link perfectly with the next generational change as we witness the gradual increase of Generation Y in the workforce.

Gen Yers are perfectly ‘engineered’ to adopt Agile.

The collaborative aspect of the Agile approach is perfect for a generation who grew up in a collaborative, social media driven environment.

On Leadership Agility

So, what is  Business Agility and what does it take to establish Agile Leadership?

Agility, in a nut-shell is about a way of thinking and  the adoption of certain values. As such, being an agile leader does not denote a recommended set of processes or procedures  but rather an established  set of attitudes and behaviors.

While the original set of Agile values were set around the concept of software development, these can be conceptualized into the following four core leadership values:

  1. People are more important than processes and tools
  2. Knowledge is incremental and is enhanced through experimentation and observation
  3. Collaboration is fundamental to achieving buy-in and co-operation
  4. Change is a given and as such quick adaptation is more important than following a fixed and rigid plan.

The Path to Business Agility

The path to Business Agility, utilizing the well rehearsed values and  practices established by the Agile movement is  now open for all to use.

While not all organizations and, indeed, not all leaders, are ready for this approach, the ‘Agile train’ has already left the station.

You could be ignoring the  trend and prefer to remain on the sideline while it goes by, or you can join in and be part of the journey.

The choice is yours. What would it be? Think about it!

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——————–
Shim Marom PMP, MSP, ICAgile ICP
Shim Marom is a Melbourne, Australia based Project Management Consultant
He blogs and engages in Public, Forums and Online Discussions
Email | LinkedIn | Twitter | Blog

Image Sources: alquimia-netlabel.com

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5 Responses

  1. Many good points and observations, Shim. We believe this need for Agility so much that we created the Agile Thinking Framework, a structured approach and set of practical techniques and job aids to help people to adapt and feel more comfortable with ambiguity and the imperfect world in which most of us make decisions.

    I agree that the fundamentals remain the same – but the ways of achieving business, personal, team and leadership success have changed. Technology, rapid pace of change, globalization, working across organizational borders through alliances & partnerships, and – as you point out – the multi-generational and diverse workforce are challenges that leaders are largely under-prepared to deal with.

    The very role in a web-enabled, collaborative and social technology environment is changing the role of managers and leaders – we hope we can offer some pragmatic ways for beginning to tackle the reinvention!

    • Thanks Anne. My anecdotal observation is that at present the drive for business agility is mostly driven from the bottom. Real, sustainable business agility is dependent on a top-down drive, and this requires the top of the pyramid to take charge and adapt the leadership style to make it happen.

  2. With respect to the American business scene, agility became a hot rock with the early 1990s deliberations at LeHigh University – led by Lee Iacocca, the automotive mogul. The government commissioned a group of people to see how the lagging manufacturing sector could be rejuvenated – it didn’t. Perhaps the 21st century version of agility is more attuned to next-gen learning philosophies such as presencing – the Theory of the U by Otto Scharmer, Peter Senge, et al. Sensing the future and acting as it emerges is slightly different than just getting incrementally better at environmental scanning / reacting. Shim, great article and thank you for your participation and leadership! Bob

    • Thanks for your comment Bob. Interesting point re. ‘sensing the future…’. The point of business agility and agility in leadership is not just about being responsive to the future, as it emerges, but also about adopting the state of mind of validating oneself and one’s organization against the constantly changing circumstances. It is about regularly asking questions and validating whether what we thought about yesterday is still valid today, and – if not – changing direction as appropriate.

  3. Reblogged this on News & Notes on LEADERSHIP for LEARNING.

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