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Driving Leadership Agility: The Right—and Wrong—Way

by Evan Sinar, Ph.D.

As organizations strive to better anticipate and respond to the non-stop onslaught of change in an increasingly competitive world, agility has become a ubiquitous goal. Yet, as confirmed by the Global Leadership Forecast research, nearly half of leaders view their companies as more sluggish than agile.

One necessity for organizations striving to become more agile is making leadership agility a priority. This was an area we explored in our Leadership Practices: What’s Proven. What’s “Worth Less.” research, which draws on DDI’s Leadership Data to identify those leadership practices that are proven by research to be effective, as well as those that aren’t.

To help determine a benchmark for leadership agility, we created an agility index combining leader capability in VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) environments with data about leaders’ foundational skills related to the business challenges of VUCA. These skills include: communicating/interacting, managing change, inspiring others, and fostering motivation.

Applying this index, we found that only 18 percent of leaders scored strongly in all four categories, underscoring the need for organizations to take radical steps to increase their leadership agility.

So, what did our research show that organizations need to do—and not do—when it comes to driving leadership agility?

You should…increase the number of agile leaders. An obvious step is to commit to hiring leaders who already possess the skills associated with agility. But, to build a more agile organization, the emphasis on bringing in new leaders from the outside must be accompanied with efforts to develop and promote the leaders you already have. There are several validated assessment tools available to help you identify, hire, and promote more agile leaders.

But you should avoid…placing agile leaders in a non-agile environment. The big caveat to hiring more agile leaders is that if your organization itself isn’t agile, hiring agile leaders is likely to result in only one thing: leaders who are a poor fit and who won’t choose to stay.

According to our research, agile leaders placed in non-agile environment were 32 percent less engaged and 47 percent more likely to seek another job compared to agile leaders in highly agile companies. Poorly performing organizations and highly conservative, old-fashioned cultures don’t mix well with agile leaders.

What can you expect with agile leadership in place?

For the few companies who achieve an agile leadership pool, the impact is staggering. Companies who embrace agile processes can ramp up time to productivity for new employees by three months.

Additionally, the organizations that have a large base of agile leaders are almost six times more likely to be in the top 20 percent of profitability. Agility is also linked to fast growth in companies, giving you a leg up on your slower-growing competition.

Read more about what DDI research says about making leadership agility a priority.

Evan Sinar, Ph.D. is the Chief Scientist and Vice President of the Center for Analytics and Behavioral Research (CABER). Evan is the lead researcher for the Global Leadership Forecast 2017|2018 and is a frequent author and presenter on leadership assessment and development, talent management analytics, data visualization, and workplace technology.

Explore all the categories and practices included in Leadership Practices: What’s Proven. What’s “Worth Less.”

Posted: 10 Jan, 2018,
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