Agility is the key to successful leadership

“Leadership Agility can also be described as flexibility with a purpose”, says Bill Joiner. This quality seems paradoxical. It requires an equal focus on detail and the big picture. Agility in business is the capacity to manage two things in a short timeframe. The first is to take a step back, reflect on things in a broader perspective. The second thing is to act on these findings immediately. This apparent back and forth movement enables companies to act efficiently to changing circumstances and opportunities at hand.

Agile is the gut issue

Our changing society demands more agility. It allows society to cope better with rapid transformations, such as the growing insecurity and a growing interdependence through the global connectedness.

Bill Joiner spent years researching this phenomenon. He concludes that agility is imperative for successful business. Agile companies simply do better. Not only because they are run by agile leaders, but also because they have an agile corporate culture. Joiner quotes Boeing’s CEO: “Agile is the gut issue.”

5 levels

When Leadership Agility is applied it appears coherent with a certain degree of personal development. The agility of the organisation itself seems to be connected with the competences of its leaders. Joiner distinguishes five levels of Leadership Agility:

  1. Expert – Tactical, problem-solving orientation
  2. Achiever – Strategic, outcome orientation
  3. Catalyst – Visionary, facilitative orientation
  4. Co-Creator – Oriented toward shared purpose and collaboration
  5. Synergist – Holistic orientation

Only 1% at the top

Most leaders don’t manage to exceed the level of Achiever. If they want to maintain a future-oriented vision and be able to cope with the rapid global changes, companies need to have their leaders shift up to the level of Catalyst. This calls for a style of leadership that, according to Joiner, is only present in about 10% of all business leaders worldwide. He even states that only 1% has made it to the top level, the Synergist.

Up and downshift

Personal development to higher levels increases the ability to cope with changes in organisations and society, especially if the stages of personal development are followed in order to gain insights and experiences so that knowledge and skill of every preceding level are retained. Agile leaders can switch through different levels in the course of a single workday in order to adapt to specific circumstances.

Higher consciousness

According to Joiner the levels of Catalyst, Co-Creator and Synergist are hardly seen in leaders. His research suggests that the distinctions of these types of leader are the ability to self reflect and therefore achieve a higher level of consciousness. Agile leaders in the top three levels have the conviction that leading is a serving role. They make their decisions based on a strong intrinsic gut feeling and a well-tuned antenna for social responsibility. Research shows they practice meditation and have a strong physical influence on others.

Leadership compass

Successful agile leaders have four tools they can master and combine to cope with different situations. They are shown in the compass, Joiner developed.

Context-setting agility: The extent to which the changes a leader undertakes are tactical and incremental versus strategic or even visionary.

Stakeholder agility: How completely a leader can understand and create alignment with stakeholders whose views and objectives differ significantly from their own.

Creative agility: How insightful and creative a leader is in assessing and solving the complex, novel problems generated in turbulent business environments.

Self-leadership agility: How proactive a leader is in seeking feedback and in experimenting with new and more effective behaviours.

Bill Joiner has a 30-year track record as a business consultant. He runs the company Changewise and wrote the bestseller Leadership Agility: Five Levels of Mastery for Anticipating and Initiating Change.


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