In Authentic Leadership, Climbing the Ladder

Do you find yourself overwhelmed by the pace of change?

Here is what one of my clients very vulnerably shared with me:

“The big challenge I am facing is the uncertain world coming my way. My clients, suppliers, marketplace, technology. people, processes, financial targets, span of control, government politics are all now very complex. Due to the pace of change all over, it has created a new normal – an uncertain world. Constant change has become a part of our DNA especially at senior leadership levels. When I look at my training and experience (working across the matrix, applying lean six-sigma, industrial operations, financial skills, process management, people management) I see tools from two to three decades ago.

I am leading in an era where not only I do not know the answers, I also am not sure if I am asking the right questions.

“In this era of ambiguity then, your approach of driving authentic leadership resonates with me. We as leaders need to be confident with not knowing all the answers, comfortable with who we are at our core, to ask for help, figure out questions as we go along in this tsunami of change. We need to trust more and question more. We need to do all this while ensuring we ourselves do not get burned out. We need to pass on energy, confidence, trust to our teams. How do I do that?”

The answer to my client’s question is to grow our capacity as human beings and leaders. The book Leadership Agility by Bill Joiner and Stephen Josephs presents an excellent validated leadership model to do just that.

The model and assessment are based on the adult stages of development. The research indicates that only about 10% of managers have mastered the level of agility needed to be consistently effective and avoid burnout in today’s turbulent global workplace.

Three Levels Of Leadership Agility

The Leadership Agility model and research show that there are three levels of leadership agility most prevalent in today’s organizations: Expert (45% of leaders), Achiever (35% of leaders), and Catalyst (10% of leaders).

According to the research, the Expert level has a tactical, problem-solving orientation. They believe leaders are respected and followed by others because of their authority and expertise. The Achiever level has a strategic, outcome orientation. They believe that leaders motivate others by making it challenging and satisfying to contribute to larger objectives. The Catalyst level has a visionary, capacity-building orientation. Catalyst leaders articulate an innovative, inspiring vision and bring together the right people to make that happen. They empower others and actively facilitate their development.

Four Types Of Agility Competencies

Catalyst leaders consistently use the following four types of agility competencies in a way that they build on each other.

Context-setting Agility is the ability to scan the environment, anticipate what might change, and frame their context in a compelling way that influences others. It is the ability to step back and see connections beyond the boundaries of their specific initiative, function, company, or even industry. This allows for a longer-term focus and visionary thinking and impact.

Stakeholder Agility is the ability to identify, seek out, and engage key stakeholders. It’s the capacity to understand and empathize with the views of multiple stakeholders while also honoring one’s own view. Catalyst leaders seek input from stakeholders not just to get buy-in but are actually willing to be influenced by others’ views for better decision-making.

Creative Agility is the ability to explore multiple views when dealing with a complex problem and to step back to examine the assumptions being made. Catalyst leaders hold the tensions within paradox (short-terms vs. long-term, practical vs. idealistic) to lead teams who come up with unique solutions.

Self-Leadership Agility is the capacity to engage deeply in growing self-awareness and leading oneself first by envisioning the kind of leader they want to be. Catalyst leaders have an interest in aligning their behavior with values, and aspire to becoming more authentic leaders. They use personal growth to fuel professional development.

The move from an Expert to an Achiever (and eventually a Catalyst) leader involves proactively growing our agility in the above four areas and using our work as fuel for personal reflection, growth, and the leadership impact we’re inspired to make.

As Bill Joiner says “The pace of change and degree of interdependence in today’s global business environment demands that top tiers of management are capable of functioning at the Catalyst level. Organizations need to help many of their Achiever senior managers grow into the Catalyst level and many of their Expert middle managers develop to the Achiever level. This is a collective undertaking.”

This article first appeared in my Forbes Leadership blog.


  • CIOLook

    Amazing one! One should follow to lead the path. Thanks for sharing Heena.

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