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Agile leadership, the key to facing COVID-19

Agile leadership

Agile leadership, the key to facing COVID-19

Successful companies such as Netflix or Amazon have shown that being an agile organization pays off. But how to maintain agility when a disruption like COVID-19 arises? And how to build an Agile mindset on leaders to make them the main drivers of a change that is necessary to deal with the crisis?

The challenge of being disruptive

Disrupt yourself before someone else does - The Exponential Leaders Guide to Disruption, The Singularity University

The disruption has already happened. The coronavirus has accelerated a process of change towards new forms of remote work and has given new technologies and digital resources a central role. This has a strong impact on the way we relate and how we work (what we do and, also, how we do it).

Creating and promoting a “transformation plan” to face new challenges is not something new. With technology advancing at an accelerated pace in the last years, many organizations have taken the initiative to transform themselves before being altered by competition and, ultimately, disappearing.

In 2019, surveys by Deloitte and McKinsey showed that while more than 90% of senior executives prioritized being agile, only 10% considered their organizations to be agile. Frustrating.

It is true that, as leaders, it often seems impossible to encourage an agile culture in an organization that moves at a different pace. But today the pandemic forces us to react and do it now if we want to survive. The organization needs to become agile and it needs agile leaders to do so. Because only an agile leader can make an organization agile.

In order to take this place of agile leadership, we need to ask ourselves where we should go, how fast we should go, and what level of understanding we are achieving from the rest of the organization.

 

  • Are we sufficiently convinced of the importance of being agile or do we address it because it seems to be the ´politically correct´ thing to do?
  • Are we being fast enough in the transformation?
  • Does a minimum amount of our people follow us -understanding what, why, and why now– to ensure the necessary synergy?

Building an Agile mindset in the leaders

 

When we discuss Agile, what we are really talking about is building a deep cultural change that transforms the values, habits, and practices established in the organization. In other words, installing a new mindset. And the first ones that need to embrace and spread the change are the leaders.

You have an Agile mindset if you are worried, and sometimes obsessed, with:

  • Innovating and consistently delivering more added value to the customers
  • Structuring and working in small self-managed teams in which the talent of each of its members is maximized
  • Building an interactive network instead of a pyramid structure composed of silos
The traditional organization vs the agile organization

The must do´s of a more agile leader

 

If you want to be a more agile leader and inspire the people around you, start by respecting these principles:

  • Define a vision and believe in it. Many executives have a vision of where they want to drive their companies. Others, just write a vision down. An agile leader imagines a future -even knowing that it will most likely not be as he imagined it- and moves towards it. He is not held up by uncertainty, instead, he prepares himself to face it.
  • Do not let the fear of error stop you. An agile leader knows that he needs to experiment to learn and better understand how to move forward. He is not ashamed to say that he does not know and is open to accepting alternative ideas.
  • Reject the fallacy of “the leader is the genius”: Our responsibility as leaders is to define and/or communicate the vision, creating a favorable environment for solutions to emerge. We do not need to have all the answers, just to give space to others to bring them to the table. We do not need to like every idea, and we definitely not need to have everything be done as we would have done it, as long as we achieve the desired results.
  • Expand your thinking: An agile leader knows how to open his universe of possibilities and sees other ways of doing things. And, by understanding that they are only approximations, he can visualize different scenarios and future options.
  • Be open to feedback: An agile leader knows, above all, how to listen. It is true that what he is hearing is only an opinion, and he can think differently. But he understands that every point of view has some truth in it.
  • Be curious: As leaders, we must inquire, ask, in an effort to understand how and why others see something different. Only in this way can we discover other possible options and better solutions. Remember, a correct question is worth much more than 10 answers to the wrong questions.

Conclusions

 

Building an Agile leadership style is not easy. It implies a profound cultural change that will face resistance at all levels of the organization.

In a context of crisis, developing a cultural change might seem impossible, and many will say that there is no time for it. I believe thinking like this is a mistake. Now is the time to show the need to be agile, to take advantage of the uncertainty to experiment, and the remote work to develop autonomous teams that are self-managed.

Creating a culture where there are leaders who empower and trust their team and, as a counterpart, people who learn and trust themselves, is part of a deep Change Management work that begins with the leaders and must be driven by them. Let’s face the crisis with agile leadership.

Author: Raúl Molteni

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