In the last couple of years, a new word has made its way in the world of leadership: Agile.
Beyond its classic definition of being able to move quickly and easily, it is no coincidence that Agile comes to us from the software development world. It is a term to describe a method of project management characterised by the division of tasks and frequent reassessment and adaption of plans. “Frequent assessment and adaptation of plans” is key here.
The organisational challenges brought to us by the “digital revolution”, which started in the 2000s, are not only transforming economies, industries and societies but also Leaders who have to show the qualities to succeed in the “new normal economy”. 21st Century leaders are expected to navigate within a rapidly changing environment and respond to challenges that are evolving quicker than ever before. Ignoring these challenges is not only missing opportunities but also putting one’s company at risk (2).
What used to be a successful 20th century “one framework fit all” is no longer applicable today. Organisations are now more like living organism changing almost daily. A leader with a rigid framework will find hard to succeed.
For most companies, surviving and thriving in today’s environment depends on becoming more agile. A key factor in this transformation is for the leaders of the business, particularly senior leaders to be agile thinkers. It is hard to believe that an organization could be successful in their pursuit of agility without having strong leaders guiding the vision for what the organization can become (1).
At Capp, we identified Agile Thinking as one of the essential strengths for 21st-century leaders. We define this strength as the ability to be flexible and creative. We find that Leaders who display this strength generate cutting-edge solutions to complex problems for their organization.
Agile Thinking Leaders are flexible. They respond quickly to changing circumstances. They embrace getting out of their comfort zone to successfully adapt to new surroundings and culture. Beyond the fast pace change of innovation, the great majority of organizations from startup to multinationals have to deal with cultural adaptability (2). Would Uber have been such a dominant international player had it not adapted so quickly to its market’s multitude of legal and cultural specificities?
Agile Thinking Leaders are also creative. They have the ability to facilitate change and foster innovation. They do that by playing to win. They find a solution by empowering their team. They are not afraid to experiment. They love linking things in a novel and imaginative ways and strive to produce work that is original. They thrive on breaking new ground, trying things that have not been tried before or creating something from nothing. Facebook plunging into cryptocurrency and Google creating a phone or venturing into self-driving cars are good case studies for creativity.
Agile, a term only once found to describe software managers, has now spread into all industries’ lexicon. It is more than a buzzword. We use this word to describe the way we expect Leaders to manoeuvre in a world dominated by globalization and data. More than an attitude, Agile Thinking Leaders possess a specific set of characteristics to deal with rapid, disruptive technological change and allow them to embrace change and seize opportunities in the 21st Century.
1. Mckinsey& Company, The five trademarks of agile organizations https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/the-five-trademarks-of-agile-organizations
2. Economist Intelligence Unit, Growing Global Executive Talent https://www.ddiworld.com/DDI/media/trend-research/growing-global-executive-talent_eiu_ddi.pdf?ext=.pdf
3. Mckinsey& Company, Leading agile transformation: The new capabilities leaders need to build 21st-century organizations https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/leading-agile-transformation-the-new-capabilities-leaders-need-to-build-21st-century-organizations