The ‘Radically Agile’ Leader

Kylie Wright-Ford

Look around.  We are in the throes of transitioning from the digital revolution to what is being called the “fourth industrial revolution.”  It is an era which embodies a mash-up of physical, digital and biological systems and one where the pace of change is dramatic multiples of the previous three revolutions.  The companies that will succeed in this environment are those that are extremely adaptive and agile in the way they think, operate and innovate.

One of the most important challenges of this era is attracting and accessing talent for your organization.  To do so, leaders need to become radically agile themselves so they can effectively lead by example.

There are four leadership qualities that are imperative for today’s agile leaders.

Trust: Staying Trustworthy Beyond Reproach

In a survey of over 500 emerging leaders, we asked what three words best typify the qualities of ideal leadership.  The top responses were all variations of the words “trust,” “trusted” and “trustworthy.”

As a leader, to be trusted and trustworthy do what you say you will do when you say you’ll do it. Simply telling no lies beats having talent any day.

One aspect of developing a trusting relationship is maintaining a sense of openness and transparency with the people you work with, whether employees or external resources.  You must be accessible and willing to have frank, honest discussions.  Face time (the need to be physically present) is a relic of the past and being transparent on expectations, including the speed and results you need, irrespective of where talent is or whether they are an employee or freelancer is key.  To become radically agile, you need to think about who needs to do what work and find the best possible talent to match to projects by being honest and transparent about what needs to be done, why it needs to be done and who is best placed to do it.

Kindly Confident: Projecting and Inspiring Confidence

It is no longer the norm or the aspiration for people to work for someone in a position of power that simply directs without context.  In addition to building trust, leaders must project confidence and help others develop this quality.  Confidence is a combination of courage and curiosity.  Combining these two traits creates an unstoppable and confident leader.

Confidence in a leader is as much to instill it in others as oneself. Having confidence isn’t knowing things will work out, it’s knowing you can work with whatever happens.

Confident people make a realistic assessment of their team’s accomplishments, skills, and strengths.  They seek speed and quality and know that the external environment waits for no-one.  Kindly confident leaders are generous and find team members in diverse corners of the world.  They are agnostic on whether they are employees, freelancers or brilliant business minds available for just this project or for a long time after.  They know that innovation can come faster by becoming radically agile and are willing to ditch legacy thinking in the spirit of building a stronger product, company and/or world.

Enlightened: Opening Your Mind and Constantly Learning

Just as with the previous quality of confidence, curiosity plays a major role in maintaining a sense of “enlightenment” and is imperative in becoming a radically agile leader.  An effective leader is intellectually curious, constantly learning, interested in things beyond the obvious and genuinely in pursuit of wisdom about people, places, technologies, religions, scientific advances, economies, and cultures.  Being enlightened is only limited by your willingness to “know what you don’t know” and to soak in new information without biases.

learning must be like breathing for leaders of the future

Enlightened leaders have a great attitude supplemented by the habit of continually reading, talking, seeking, listening, and observing.  Leaders on the journey to becoming radically agile are known more by the questions they ask than the answers they give.  They ask what’s important: what needs to change in a project or work environment and what needs to remain the same.

Tenacity—Persistence in Your Pursuits

All the qualities discussed so far—trust, confidence, and enlightenment—are imperative for today’s leaders. But without being tenacious, determined, and self-starting, the other three attributes will fail to materialize.  Agile and tenacious leaders take a tough situation and fix it or make it better.  They might retrench, reiterate, reconvene, or pivot more often than other leaders, but they keep at it instead of stalling when something becomes difficult.

Do take every minute as a chance to do something; more than others and better…put an all-out effort to avoid being viciously mediocre.

The idea of tenacity is often overlooked in favor of more visible and sometimes superficial qualities like “charisma.”  This tendency is short-sighted: it takes time and mastery to impact the world in any meaningful sense.  Sweeping, positive change is often only recognized long after the leader that initiated it has gone.

Tying it All Together

Just as companies that are unable to innovate and adapt to the dramatic changes ongoing around them — in technology, labor demographics, and other things — are likely to be surpassed by their peers and competitors, so it is with leaders.  Thinking, operating, and leading in a more agile way are must-dos for leaders today.  The traits above are some of the key building blocks for leaders to achieve this type of radical agility.

What are some others?


Excerpts from “The Leadership Mind Switch” by Kylie Wright-Ford and D.A Benton adapted for Catalant.