5 Agile Leadership Competencies


Both the real experts and the so-called experts have written volumes on what separates great leaders from mediocre ones.

In my experience working with some of the most successful global companies, I’ve found that it really comes down to agility, or how well a leader can balance many choices and challenges simultaneously. Agile and flexible leadership is the ability to keep a business running smoothly by successfully navigating efficient and reliable processes, people, and innovation. Too much focus on one area can hinder performance in another. For example, an obsession with efficiency can lead a company to cut back on anything that doesn’t directly contribute to operations, including leadership development and R&D.

In my years of evaluating and developing leaders who fit this description, I have identified five core competencies or characteristics that all agile and flexible leaders have in common. Here’s a snapshot of each of them.

1. Situational awareness

Situational awareness is understanding how external and internal events, such as market competition or mergers, can affect a company’s effectiveness. That includes understanding the needs and feelings of those affected by the event, as well as the impact on operations.

For example, leaders with good situational awareness understand how a merger affects employee morale and performance and will do everything possible to reassure employees and keep them up to date on the latest developments.

2. Systems thinking

Complex issues often have multiple causes, which may include actions taken earlier to resolve other issues. In large organizations, any action can have multiple results and even unintended consequences. For example, cutting employees to reduce costs and maintain the same level of production can lead to more overtime and subcontracting, which can become costly enough to offset the anticipated savings.

3. Ability to prioritize

Many leaders begin the year with a list of key objectives, those broad goals that are best approached gradually. However, important goals can quickly be sidelined by more urgent “fires” that need to be put out on a daily basis. They must balance long-term goals with short-term needs and requests, never losing sight of what’s really important.

This is a competition that requires exceptional planning, time management, and patience. Even the most experienced leaders have a hard time getting it right sometimes.

4. Maintain self-awareness

While situational awareness requires leaders to have a good understanding of what is going on around them, self-awareness is the ability for leaders to understand their own emotions and motives.

Having this self-awareness can help leaders control their own personal biases and make better decisions, adapting their behavior according to the situation.

A leader whose main motivation is to win the affection and approval of others will have a hard time making difficult decisions unless he recognizes this tendency and controls it. However, a leader who is primarily motivated by money can make decisions that cause him to lose respect or even violate ethics.

5.Personal integrity

Without integrity, a leader is unlikely to retain the trust, loyalty, and support of people whose cooperation is essential. Integrity means that a person is honest, ethical, and trustworthy. Important indicators of integrity include:

– Keep promises and fulfill commitments.

– Behavior that is consistent with values ‚Äč‚Äčrepeatedly expressed to others.

– Assume responsibility for one’s own actions and decisions.

Lack of leader integrity will eventually have negative consequences for both individual leaders and the organization. Studies at the Center for Creative Leadership found that managers with high integrity had more successful careers, and a lack of integrity was common among managers whose careers derailed after an initial period of rapid advancement.

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