The term leadership agility is a quick way to describe the individual, team and organisational capability and capacity to access and utilise a suitably diverse range of connected relationships, knowledge and expertise for achieving three things:
- Noticing and understanding the implications for everyone of changes in the business context (internal and external)
- Communicating and using that understanding in a way that enables others to innovate and adapt appropriately, thereby maintaining performance levels during change
- Delivering sustainable performance improvements by embedding the capacity to change (dynamically), into a work culture and operating system where agile leadership is continuously practiced
Paradoxically, even though most organisations have one or more change management programmes in place at any one time, senior executives often complain about a shortage of change leadership capability to make the changes happen and stick. At the same time, senior professionals or middle managers often feel that opportunities to grow and shine are few and far between; either there is too little time or budget available for learning, or limited focused investment in supported on-the-job change leadership development, as they try and cope with the extra cognitive and emotional demands of navigating change. Meanwhile, employees always complain about the lack of communication from ‘the top’; usually down to poor translation of the change in terms of what it means in their language and within their work, rather than the total communication effort per se.
Many experts suggest that ‘embracing inconsistencies’ is a primary role of leadership. Leaders need to be good at holding the tension created by apparently conflicting requirements; they need to engage with the challenge of finding solutions that are more inclusive and representative of the diversity of interests and satisfy the differing priorities emanating from various areas of expertise. It is often an uncomfortable position to find your-self in. As modern organisations become more complex, leaders face more and more paradox as they navigate transitions. They have to try to maintain some sense of stability and continuity in an ever changing world; for example, work to reconcile local needs with global interests, decide when to build on existing knowledge and when to unlearn because the approach is no longer fit for purpose.
In our work with clients we break leadership agility down into 12 practices and through this framework first examine how change is impacting their context and explore the challenges this presents. Then, in turn, we look at each of the practices as they relate to predicting, implementing and embedding organisational change. These phases represent the natural change cycle of renewal, survival and thriving; with the latter phase often overlooked in change programmes. Through this process, learners get a real sense of their everyday priorities in being able to respond and adapt to ever changing circumstances and conditions at work, plus life in general. In this way, the learning enables managers and subsequently, the staff they manage, to move towards mastery of leadership agility. Indeed, one of the practices of mastering leadership agility is to support one another in developing the best leadership you can; so we also encourage development of collective, as well as individual, leadership. By doing so, clients also grow their next generation of leaders.
The more people practice the practices, both individually and together, the more likely the organisation will generate the cultural conditions and climate conducive to knowledge sharing, learning, engagement and collaboration. The role of leadership is to facilitate the growth of these conditions in a way which uses difference, novelty, unfamiliarity, tension between stability and change, in a positive way. Creating this stimulation, adaptation and growth prevents degeneration into the politics, conflict and uncertainty that often leaves people feeling uncomfortable, de-motivated and resistant to change. Using the 12 leadership agility practices as a live, every day, dynamic, on-going link of leadership development with work application, will resolve these issues.
This ‘in the moment’ leadership agility learning is vital for individual, team and whole of organization survival, thriving and renewal in an interconnected and often chaotic world.
 E.g. Tushman, ML Smith, WK and Binns, A (2011) The Ambidextrous CEO. Harvard Business Review vol 89 (iss) 6: 74-80. Nonaka, I and Takeuchi, H (2011) The wise leader. Harvard Business Review vol 89 (iss) 5: pp. 58-67.
 McKenzie, J., Woolf, N., Morgan C., and van Winkelen C. (2009). Cognition in strategic decision making: A model of non-conventional thinking capacities for complex situations. Management Decision, Vol. 47, No 2, pp. 209-232