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The Importance Of Being Agile

September 2020
Hector Postantzis Samaras
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In a world of constant change, the leaders who communicate clearly and lead by example will come out ahead

COVID-19 has undeniably shed some light on the existing leadership model, something that is now evolving and radically changing. As Thomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a professor of business psychology at University College London and Columbia University, suggested, “Bad times will not only expose, but also amplify, the harmful effects of incompetent leadership.” A crisis can clarify the changes we need to make in leadership philosophy and application. If, as Chamorro-Premuzic noted, a crisis amplifies the harmful effects of weak leadership, then it should also help to identify the new approaches we need to take.

These are unpredictable times of volatility, complexity and, in some places at least, a rising tide of new opportunities. In this age of our fourth industrial revolution, rapid technological and social change mean an increasing number of sectors are approaching a tipping point at which companies must become agile to compete and survive.

We need to rethink the essence of effective leadership. Certain qualities, such as deep domain expertise, authority, and short-term task focus, are losing their cachet. Agility is more than a buzzword, and there is growing recognition of its transformational benefits. Even before COVID-19, many businesses operated in a world of continual change faced with the need to constantly adapt and future-proof themselves against increasing digitally based disruption.

What It Takes To Be Agile

Leaders require specific skills and competencies to successfully meet the challenges of today’s rapidly evolving business environment. A recent study surveying more than 1,000 global executives revealed a change in the perceived vital competencies for today’s leaders, especially in disrupted industries and markets. On this basis, The Agile Leadership framework developed by IMD Business School, Metaberatung & Hogan calls it the “HAVE Mindset,” wherein a leader is:

  • Humble: able to accept feedback and acknowledge that others know more than they do
  • Adaptable: accepting that change is constant and that changing their minds based on new information is a strength rather than a weakness
  • Visionary: having a clear sense of long-term direction, even in the face of short-term uncertainty
  • Engaged: having the willingness to listen, interact, and communicate with internal and external stakeholders combined with a strong sense of interest and curiosity in emerging trends
    According to this theory, three additional key behaviors are identified as what sets apart an agile and non-agile leader: hyperawareness, informed decision-making, and fast execution.

With the environment continually changing, it is the role of company leaders to always be surveying that ecosystem to understand how it is evolving, what are the forces shaping it, and critically what it the impact of those changes are going to be for their business. Leaders who are hyperaware are constantly scanning their environments, both inside and outside their organizational boundaries, and they recognize the need to provide guidance through a strong vision, as the potential for change threatens to overwhelm a linear strategy.

To be informed decision-makers, leaders must recognize and utilize the best data sources, apply appropriate analytics, and then make a decision. Faced with insufficient or even contradictory data, leaders must draw on their experience and intuition to move forward. Informed decision-making underpins a leader’s ability to adapt and support their long-term vision.

Fast execution is about minimizing hierarchy and unleashing the creativity and judgment of the people. The goal is to use increased autonomy to create an organization in which average people deliver above-average performance every day — and learning happens continuously and transparently. In an environment characterized by significant disruption, the effectiveness of hyperawareness and informed decision-making is significantly reduced if the organization is not able to act with speed. Ultimately, agile leaders will only be effective if they are able to quickly execute an informed decision.

The Benefits Of Agile Leadership

At Stanton Chase, we find this model an excellent basis for developing leadership. We propose the assessment tools designed to apply it (The Agile Leader: 360 and personality profile) to our clients with a focus on organizations that function in fast-paced business environments.

This shift in leadership focus is also confirmed by our recent report, “The C-suite Challenge 2020: Your Future-Ready Organization,” wherein more than 65% of the sample expressed their firm belief that showcasing a growth mindset, being agile and adaptable, and engaging others are key qualities for leaders to move their organizations forward.

Organizations need to identify those agile learners and support their career growth for improving leadership bench strength, which in turn will drive the company through times of change and give it the distinct competitive advantage of improved performance.

Well-developed agile leadership at all levels of an organization has four major benefits: leadership bench strength improves, the ability to lead a company through times of change is enhanced, retention of high potential talent increases, and business performance improves. To ensure success, organizations need a clearly communicated intention and consistent action for managing leadership supported by science-based methods and tools.

To succeed at being agile, leaders need to both extend and transcend the competencies and associated behaviors that made them successful leaders in the past and embrace new approaches that will enable them to better adjust to and navigate the unknown.

About the Author:

Hector Postantzis Samaras is a Consultant at the Stanton Chase Athens office.

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