If you’re finding yourself exhausted or unsure about how to make decisions in this time of disruption, you’re not alone. Leaders around the world are trying to learn how to lead with agility in these unprecedented times. As an executive coach, I am getting many requests like this e-mail from Carlos (we’ll call him Carlos to protect the innocent):
“I wonder if you can help me with the head of one of my sales teams. His name is John. John doesn’t think he can sell virtually to our customers during this pandemic. He feels he needs face to face interaction with them. Some of our customers are still trying to figure out how to adapt their business and frankly we’re not sure if their business will survive. John is also not confident that our products are a good fit for them now. I’m concerned that his direct reports are floundering without direction. Can you help?”
The note went on to share an in-depth e-mail that John had sent to Carlos about all the reasons why he needed to wait until things “got better”. John (quite dejected) ended his e-mail by suggesting that maybe it was time for him to just retire. I’m sure this was a hard e-mail for John to send. It was a hard e-mail for Carlos to receive because John has been a great leader of his team in the past. He didn’t want to lose John. He wanted to help John find his way.
We may know some people like John on our team who are frozen in their response. We may be a leader like Carlos who wants to do well by his people but doesn’t know how to help them be more agile. Each of us as leaders of teams and organizations urgently needs team members to respond to and lead the change that is required in disruptions.
Many of my clients who lead teams and organizations notice the difference in performance between those who are agile and those who are not. Their challenge is “I know how to be agile. I just don’t know how to make John more agile”. Most of us haven’t really been trained on how to move ourselves and others from this state of fragility we sometimes feel to a state of agility.
In my new book Wired for Disruption, I talk about the five shifts in agility we need to thrive in the disruptive future of work. I share practical tools to grow our own agility and that of the people we lead. Here are the five types of agility we need to thrive in the future of work.
Neuro-Emotional Agility – This is the ability to notice our own emotional state and that of others and shift ourselves toward finding our contribution within a changing environment. Change, unpredictability and ambiguity put our already stressed nervous systems in threat state. This impairs our cognition and creativity, creates turmoil in emotions and behaviors, and impacts our outcomes. We can learn to intentionally shift our default emotions and biology to calm and creative states.
Learning Agility – This is the ability to rapidly learn, unlearn and relearn based on new and changing situations. Our habitual patterns of thinking prevent us from fully capturing new information so we can adapt to what’s changing. We are now often making decisions in novel situations where there is limited expertise or best practice. We need learning agility to see the new reality, question our biases, and shift our mindsets. This meta-learning is not just learning a new skill, it is growing a new brain that increases learning capacity and accelerates our ability to adapt. As the future is unpredictable, we create the future by learning in the present moment.
Trust Agility – Teams where there is strong trust one are nine times more agile. This is because team members are encouraged to openly share diverse perspectives, do safe-to-fail experiments and challenge thinking. Leading in disruption requires quickly creating trust in complex teams. The teams of the emerging future will be fluid, globally distributed, multi-generational, often virtual, and span organizational boundaries. We need to build trust quickly to accelerate team performance and well-being.
Stakeholder Agility – The pandemic is illuminating just how interdependent we are. We are increasingly solving problems that require shared ownership and action. Problems like pandemic response, climate change, innovating to solve meaningful issues in our ecosystem, or opportunities that require a pivot in business models require us to work with a newer and much wider set of stakeholders than in the past. As we engage with stakeholders with varying and often conflicting needs, we need stakeholder agility to align this complex system and move toward solutions that work for the whole.
Growth Agility – This is our ability to grow ourselves and others through pivotal experiences and conversations. Human capacity and agility must be transformed at scale if we are to urgently and effectively solve the meaningful problems we are faced with. This requires that each of us be able to grow ourselves and the people in our charge.
The good news is that as human beings, we are wired to be agile. The five shifts in agility are both within our own control and also good for our well-being. When we engage in neural states that focus on contribution, connection, curiosity and caring these states help us be more agile in change and lower stress levels and even improve immunity.
If you’re curious about how you rate in the five types of agility, take the complimentary 5-minute Agility Quiz here.
As an executive coach working with C-level clients, I see how those who are agile are getting visibility across their organizations. They are tapped to be part of cross-organizational teams who are helping to shift business models. As an independent board director for a publicly traded company, I also see first-hand how disruptions don’t just change business plans. They also change succession plans. Leaders who are agile are quickly noticed in organizations because CEOs and boards recognize that disruption is here to stay and we need disruption-ready agile leaders to collaborate with others and shape a better future for a business and its people.