How to be an Agile Leader?

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In a rather long blog post, Henna Inam shares her perspective on why board members of organisations need to be agile and also shares a framework from her book Wired for Disruption, which can be used to develop our agility muscles. While she shares this framework and how it is relevant for board members, I believe that this is as relevant for all leaders, irrespective of which level and how formal our leadership really is.

So, assuming that we all agree that in a world which is moving fast, it is in the best interest of every leader to learn and be agile in our approach and decision making, let’s explore her model and how we can leverage this model to build our agility muscles.

Wired for Disruption – The Five Shifts in Agility to Thrive in the Future of Work, by Henna Inam

Neuro-Emotional Agility:

This is all about managing our own neuro-chemical states. Some might think that this is a fancy term for emotional intelligence and they might be partially correct. Neuro-emotional agility is emotional intelligence and much more. This is also physiological.

It is now well documented by various scientists that we physiologically react differently to stressful stimuli when compared to normal stimuli. When we are constantly bombarded with new shifts, when we are constantly working in an ambiguous environment, the chances are that our physical bodies get into a fight, flight or freeze mode, due to the neurochemicals released by the stressors.

Usually, all of these three reactions lead to decisions and actions which are sub-optimal. In moments of ambiguity and stress, we need a calm head and a cool intellect in order to make the decisions that can be beneficial to us over the long term.

We can learn to deal with these neurochemicals released by stress and ambiguity by activating our parasympathetic nervous system. This can be done by deep breathing, mindful meditation, smiling, expressing gratitude and generally being hopeful of the future.

Learning Agility:

I have stressed about this multiple times on this blog as well as in my previous book (Thrive) that one of life’s meta skill is the “Ability to constantly learn”. Learning to learn is one of the skills that can pay dividends not just now but long into the future.

Learning is not easy. Specially, adult learning is not easy at all. By the time we enter the workforce and have grown within the organisation to become a leader, a lot of our attitudes are already cemented. We have developed an approach to thinking and problem solving that has helped us succeed in the past. These cognitive habits or patterns are difficult to change because a lot of them are sub-conscious patterns and have been immensely useful in the past.

Trust Agility:

In times of disruption and ambiguity, the most important currency that we have going for us is the trust that our people have on us. I have seen many a transformation that have gone awry because the leaders did not have the trust of the people being led or among their peers.

We all already know that trust is something that you can not start working to build when you need it the most. We need to be constantly building trust with our teams and a culture where every one trusts each other.

There are a few things that can erode trust faster than incompetence. So, being competent in what we do is foundational. Trust needs constant, continuous and consistent communication about where we are going, what are we thinking, why are we thinking this way. Trust also needs constant, consistent and continuous deep listening (more about listening as a leader here).

The agility part of Trust agility is our ability as leaders to activate trust during moments of doubt and ambiguity. We can only activate it if we already have built it over time already. Understanding this and acting accordingly is crucial for us to succeed as leaders and for the team to achieve its objectives.

Growth Agility:

This all about us continuing to learn and grow, as leaders and as individuals. This is about growing our perspectives. When our teams see us putting together a growth plan, when they see us continue to learn, when they see us growing different perspective, they do so as well. This creates a culture of learning and growth.

One important way to continue to grow as an individual, leader or as an organisation is by leveraging the power of reflection. As I have written elsewhere, adult learning and growth is incomplete without reflection.

One may ask what is the difference between learning and growth agility. Learning is all about skills, while growth is all about mindset.

Stakeholder Agility:

Nothing big or great is accomplished alone. We need to work together, not just within our teams and organisations but with everyone else that our work touches. This includes our vendors, customers, partners and internal stakeholders alike. As a leader it is one of our primary responsibilities to build ties with all of these stakeholders such that our teams are able to do their best work possible without having to worry about bureaucracy or managing the different stakeholders.

While doing so, we also need to talk (and sometimes show) to our teams about how we do this. The ability to take different perspectives and showing empathy to all the stakeholders is key. The ability to negotiate from conviction about what is good for all concerned is something that we need to develop and help our teams develop as well.

In conclusion:

In conclusion, having a good framework or a model that can help guide us in our journey makes the journey simpler and easier as the model guides us with clear next steps. I have heard someone say, “All models are flawed, some of them are useful”.

We just need to find a model that is useful, leverage it until, it is no longer useful to us. This model created by Henna Inam is as good as any other model that we can find, so, if you find this interesting and appealing, please go ahead and use this until it is no longer useful.

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