Recently, the corporate world woke up to the news of General Electric (GE) unexpectedly ousting CEO John Flannery in little more than a year. The frustration of the board due to the slow pace of change under Flannery is being cited as one of the major reasons for this abrupt move.
Over the years, 21st century leaders have started acknowledging the need to be agile in fast-paced, uncertain and highly competitive business environments. They have made a shift from the principles of Taylorism to something that many of us would relate to as “agile leadership.”
Leadership agility is defined as the ability to take action in complex and constantly changing situations. It is the ability to foresee dynamic situations and to respond to them appropriately. The same goes for agile organizations and teams.
However, leading teams across generations, cultures and geographies with diverse needs, wants and motivations can pose several challenges to leaders. In addition, the global economy is witnessing relentless, rapid change. Whether it be due to political or policy decisions such as Brexit or developments in technology.
Under such circumstances, agile is the key to navigate new waters and chart new successes.
According to latest research on agile leadership conducted by Boston-based firm ChangeWise, “leadership agility is not a single competency.” They found that it is a combination of interconnected capabilities that include “context-setting agility, stakeholder agility, creative agility and self-leadership agility.” Let us look at some of the leaders across the corporate and political sphere who have displayed agile leadership and see what they do differently to be such huge successes.
In recent years India, has been making a mark on the world map under the transformative and agile leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has laid the foundations of an efficient tax system, built an effective government machinery, and continues to promote long-term economic development.
On close observation it becomes evident that Prime Minister Modi functions like a CEO of a company who sets ambitious targets for his cabinet. His team members depend on his abilities to prioritize ruthlessly and manage risk effectively in this age of digital overload. In fact, he is one of the few leaders who has shown by example what agile leadership is all about, by making choices that have led to his government's success in such a brief period.
Lessons for leaders: It is important to have a vision and to constantly steer your team in that direction. For that it is important to set goals, which ensure overall success, efficiency, and productivity.
Former U.S. President Barack Obama is another fine example of an agile leader with laudable qualities and habits that made him a statesman and a highly reputed global leader. Both of his campaigns of 2008 and 2012 were classic cases of how to use social media to shape public opinion in the internet age. His strength lay in his ability to innovate and find newer ways to communicate with a generation that gets all its information from mobile phones. His confidence and ability to convey his message with clarity and logic ensured his victory.
Lessons for leaders: In a rapidly evolving world, a leader should be able to innovate and stay agile to adapt to the changing market trends.
Ever since the creation of the American eCommerce company in 1997, CEO Jeff Bezos has also been a strong proponent of creating value for customers. At Amazon, shareholder value is the outcome, not the operational goal. Bezos insists that customer should always be first, ahead of “short-term profitability considerations or short-term Wall Street reactions.” Bezos strongly believes in building a solid market leadership that will ensure a powerful economic model and translate to higher profitability and greater returns on invested capital.
Lessons for leaders: Leaders must embody a growth mindset, lookout for business opportunities and partnerships and play a key role in expanding their ambitious plans.
For former Chairman and CEO of IBM Louis V. Gerstner managing to change a work culture that he described as "inbred and ingrown" was a major achievement. Under his leadership, the company slashed expense worth billions and raised cash by selling assets. He smartly halted a plan that was pretty much in progress, to break up the company into multiple operating units. According to Gerstner it was the “most crucial decision” he had ever made in his entire business career because very few people knew that the firm was on the verge of bankruptcy.
Lessons for leaders: In a rapidly evolving world, a leader should be able to recover fast from a setback, learn from the experience and apply it to lead his team to success.
Agile leaders understand that they must constantly adapt in a chaotic global environment and have a proactive approach to change. They are creative thinkers, who can adjust their leadership style and are open to feedback and to learning from past mistakes. They ensure positive business outcomes, streamline internal workflows without losing sight of the organizational vision, create a collaborative corporate culture and lead the whole team to the finish line on time.
Given that agile has become such a buzz word across workplaces with everyone eager to hop on the agile train without knowing how to get started. The answer is simple, even something as modest as a daily stand-up meeting can foster an agile culture. A daily stand-up provides a platform for crucial actions and answerabilities offering agility to address business issues there and then.
As digital visionary and thought leader Pearl Zhu says, “Agile is not prescriptive and which techniques are appropriate will depend on the context.” In today’s constantly changing times agile leadership is what can ensure global conglomerates stay relevant and ahead of the curve.
This article was first published in People Matters.