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How to be more agile



There’s a lot of talk about agility as a desirable trait for leaders – but what exactly is it and how can we achieve it?

The agile leaders we see through our coaching and leadership development programs all feature a number of similar characteristics.  To help you work out how agile you are, we have included these characteristics in our agility checklist:

  • The flexibility to adapt, refocus and create new plans to move through obstacles
  • A willingness to self-reflect and seek, accept and learn from feedback – asking yourself and others ‘what worked, what didn’t, and what can I do differently next time?’
  • The ability to focus on tasks in the present, while keeping the broader strategic vision top of mind
  • A strong personal presence and understanding of what drives and motivates yourself and others
  • Great listening skills, an openness to new ideas, and an understanding that great ideas can come from anyone, anywhere
  • Curiosity, creativity and energy – driving you to continually innovate to find new and better ways of doing things
  • The resilience to deal with uncertainty and sudden change – and see it as challenging and exciting rather than threatening and unsettling.

Our recent research found ‘agility to manage through ambiguity and change’ to be the most critical leadership requirement for success in our current business environment.  Agile leaders respond ‘in the moment’ to a change of priorities, see things from many points of view, process data quickly in an ambiguous environment and use their experience to make a judgement.

So, what practical steps can each of us take to become more agile leaders?

It’s important to start by determining how leadership agility can support your business objectives. This means asking questions like:

  • What type of agility do I want to develop as a leader?
  • How urgent is this for successful performance?

Next, identify one characteristic of agile leaders that is aligned with your business objectives, for example, great listening skills providing openness to new ideas.

Think of examples where you have done this well – or could have done better.  Now think of some small changes you can make to improve your listening skills and be more open to new ideas.  Listening involves all of the senses, not just hearing the words but watching for non-verbal messages as well so it requires attention and concentration.  Some executives use brown bag lunches as an opportunity to hone their listening skills and demonstrate their openness to new ideas from people across their organisation.  But you don’t need an occasion – you can practice these skills in everyday conversations.

I recently met with a colleague to discuss a particular project that was off track. It was a challenging conversation that needed to take place.  My colleague was surprised by how understanding I was as they were expecting me to be disappointed and frustrated. In reality, I was able to make meaning of the situation by drawing on past similar challenging experiences from my own life and career.

I was keen to understand why things hadn’t worked, and I was open to talking honestly and listening authentically. I used my curiosity to probe what had worked and what had caused the setbacks and then drew on my creativity to help my colleague process feedback, gather new insights and brainstorm new plans together. All the time I was working hard to keep a check on my emotions to notice if I was being defensive.

Using the conversation as a learning experience means I am continuing to grow in my leadership agility while developing a culture of agility – one conversation at a time.

Why not get started now? Print out the agility checklist above and start asking for feedback on how agile you were in your last conversation, meeting or public address.



About the author: Virginia Mansell, Executive Chairman, Stephenson Mansell Group

Virginia Mansell is an expert in executive coaching, mentoring and leadership. She is also the author of The Focused Executive, an important resource for CEOs and senior executives determined to perform at their very best, the 2nd Edition of which will be published in 2014.

In 1998, Virginia established The Mansell Group to provide coaching and leadership development services.  In 2005, she merged this business with The Stephenson Partnership to create Stephenson Mansell Group, arguably Australia’s longest-established executive development firm.  Over the last fifteen years, the Stephenson Mansell Group has coached and mentored over 5000 executives in more than 500 organisations in Australia and internationally and has worked with 30 of Australia’s top 50 companies.

In addition to her own experience as a business leader, Virginia brings to her role over 30 years of experience in human resource management, counselling psychology, psychotherapy and organisational consulting.  www.smgrp.com.au