Corporate conversations these days seem to be peppered by the term ‘agile’ and being no IT guru, I won’t hazard an attempt to explain Agile methodology to you (though my sister is a Scrum Master : ) What did attract me to a recent webinar by Jeffery Hull
was the term Leadership Agility, because that is a space in which I do work and believe leaders are constantly under pressure to perform circus-like acrobatics to remain ‘agile’.
As a former dancer, one of the daily practices to master movement is to remain flexible.
It’s an ongoing struggle for those of us who were not born with genetically long hamstrings or malleable joints!
Flexibility is the first of Hull’s agility framework elements and he speaks to a continuum of being authoritative or consensus driven, to being declarative vs inquisitive. Most of us will choose the second set of words with respect to leadership, but there is definitely a place for being ‘fast’ and declarative, particularly in times of crisis. I think the nub is no longer which end of the spectrum you select, but rather where along the continuum you choose to be for your current context.
This is what Hull terms the ‘post-heroic leader’ in his book Flex. “Whether a person is twenty-five or fifty, if they’re leading a team now, chances are that they’re managing a kaleidoscope of people from a variety of cultures and across a range of ages, all of whom are wired together 24/7.”
What interested me is there is little in Hull’s agility framework about so-called ‘hard skills’, like strategic management and financial austerity measures (not to disregard these as unimportant). Rather it includes a strongly relational approach speaking to being real (authenticity) and collaborative; elements 4 and 5 of the framework.
And elements 2 and 3 speak to intentional communication and emotional agility which are real challenges for leaders, navigating their way through pandemic times.
By way of example, Hull shared a recent coaching case study of a leader who believed he was checking in with his team and really listening.
But in asking them simply how they were doing, he got the standard meeting responses of ‘fine’, or ‘good’.
When he replaced the question with, “what is the most painful thing you are experiencing right now?” (and no, it need not point to crisis, so feel free to use, ‘what is the most uplifting thing you are experiencing right now?) the leader received a very different response. Not only does it demonstrate the power of a well-formulated check-in question, but also the willingness to be ‘real’ and intentional about how we communicate in our workplaces.