What is agility? In the simplest of terms, it is a rapid whole-body movement with a change of velocity or direction in response to a stimulus.
Leaders who want to become an agile leader have to be serious about making the transition from old protocols that have been rooted in bureaucracy for many years to an agile approach and mindset that’s progressive, flexible, innovative, open-minded, and courageous. The agile leader has to learn to be uncomfortable while forging new territories.
Courage is the key to great leadership. To agile leadership. Time and time again, we have seen how courage has played an important role in many major turning points throughout history, from Martin Luther King, Jr. fighting for the equality of African-Americans during the Civil Rights movement in the mid-1950s to Malala Yousafzai advocating education for girls at the present time. Likewise, those who step up and voice their opinions in organizations and community today are the very ones to ignite change. Courage and self-confidence are interconnected, relying on one another to push us to achieve the results we want. Courage provides us with the confidence to pursue a goal, to lead others to manifest change, whereas confidence helps us believe we can bring about that change. It all takes courage. Courage to change. To innovate.
Most companies find it difficult to innovate and change, even when society and businesses are being forced to change. An agile leader is the one who is visionary and courageous enough to liberate that innovative spirit at the core of a company’s heart: the employees and operational framework.
Everything starts at the top with leadership. In order for an organization to successfully execute a new initiative or total transformation, the leaders of the organization must lead the way. The Coronavirus pandemic has accelerated change like we have never seen before. In order to put your organization in a position to win and come out on the other side of this crisis, becoming an agile leader could pay huge dividends moving forward.
In the hopes of becoming a more agile leader, leaders can use the tenets of the letters of the word, AGILE itself in its meaning to affect positive change.
A: Adapt – Stay nimble and flexible in your daily approach.
G: Grow – Continually seek growth and never-ending improvement.
I: Innovate – Encourage rapid experimenting and learning.
L: Lead – Leaders go first.
E: Evolve – Let go of the old ways of managing and working.
Agile leadership transitions are never ending journeys. People need time to dream, to create, and to get accustomed to a new operating model. Predicting exactly how any given change will affect the organization is hard, so testing, learning, and experimenting are essential.
Agile methods, like all other management tools, have strengths and weaknesses. They are not perfect and do not always mean success. They do not eliminate problems, and there can be many obstacles in business, but when used properly in appropriate situations, agile leaders can trade potentially disastrous problems for lesser problems. Naturally, the best approach is not to choose agile methods over all other management approaches, but to learn when, where, and how to use it harmoniously in combination with other tools at hand. Aristotle called this “Finding the Golden Mean” more than 2,300 years ago.
Agile leadership is an element of “connected” leadership. Connected agile leaders lead with a deep sense of purpose and clarity about their mission. Secondly, connected agile leaders are authentic, open, and driven by values that inspire confidence, loyalty, dedication, and commitment from others. They have open and transparent relationships with their colleagues, teams, and customers to build trust and a positive culture around them. These agile leaders believe in others and create cross-functional teams to create an empowered staff to deliver in line with the organization’s direction and purpose.
For example, Jeff Bezos created Amazon in 1994. Ever since then, he has stressed customer value as the primary goal of Amazon. Bezos, in his letter to shareholders in 1997 stated that long-term shareholder value “will be a direct result of our ability to extend and solidify our current market leadership position.” At Amazon, shareholder value is the result, and not the operational goal. At Amazon, the customer comes first, ahead of “short-term Wall Street reactions.”
Bezos could be described as a courageous agile leader. What he was illustrating through his agile leadership was the combination of customer-value with a focus on the future and the continuation of creating new business models. It is illustrating the Adapt, Grow, Innovate, Lead, and Evolve model of being an agile leader.
The result is Jeff Bezos is now a revolutionary leader of a trillion-dollar company that in 2020, announced its plans to spend all of its second quarter profit—some four billion dollars—on its response to the Covid-19 pandemic, including testing and protection for workers, strengthening delivery networks, and boosting wages, rather than return this money to shareholders.
To put it simply, agile leadership and agile management is all about the ability and the courage to create and respond to change.