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Categories: Career, Coaching, Leadership

Leadership Agility: A Key Component to Career Success

Leadership Agility is a hot concept we have been seeing, hearing and reading more about over the past several years. In today’s complex, unpredictable, volatile and fast-paced business environment leaders are expected to handle anything and everything that is thrown their way. This environment demands a leader who is flexible, adaptable and skilled at managing diverse objectives, strategies, people and priorities without sacrificing performance or results.

In fact, many thought leaders say that leadership agility is the key ingredient that will define the next generation of leaders – no longer an optional ability but a necessary competency to master for sustained success. Significantly, the growing body of research into the topic has estimated that only 10% of leaders and managers have mastered the level of agility necessary to achieve consistent effectiveness and navigate today’s volatile environment. Put simply, Leadership Agility is the ability to anticipate or adapt and learn from unpredictable circumstances and environments in ways that benefit yourself and others. In seeking to better understand the concept and development of leadership agility, I turned to some research conducted jointly by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) and Columbia University to provide a framework for initial consideration. Their work looks at four factors that enable agility and one factor that impedes agility.


Innovating– This enabler involves questioning the status quo and challenging long held assumptions with the goal of finding new ways and processes to bring about change. Innovators have high idea productivity and migrate towards challenges and knowledge expansion. Are you someone who challenges the status quo in developing strategies or seeking solutions to organizational problems?

Performing– This enabler centers on learning from experience while remaining present and engaged in the face of adapting to the ambiguity of the environment. This factor requires excellent observation and listening skills, combined with the ability to process large amounts of data and nimbly act upon it. Are you able to meet the challenges of an unknown, shifting environment but learn new skills in the process to apply in the future?

Reflecting– This enabler considers the fact that just because you have an experience doesn’t mean you have learned from it. This factor focuses on your ability to seek, take and accept feedback; processing this information to gain greater insight into your own assumptions and behavior. Do you confidently seek feedback about your work or actions regarding how you have performed or affected outcomes in your organization?

Risking– The final enabler is that of taking risks. Risking involves putting yourself out there into the unknown, out of your comfort zone. This is pioneering or volunteering to take on a role that doesn’t have known outcomes or success attached. This component is the ability to take progressive, calculated risks that can change the trajectory of you and your organization. What are your thoughts when considering risk? Laura Overstreet Biering’s, The RiskADay Journal: 28 Days to Being You Out Loud with Courage, Creativity and Confidence offers a great tool kit to get you started on thinking about and developing this enabler.


Defending– This impeder is the inability to be open and accepting of experience. Such openness is fundamental to learning. Some individuals become closed, shut down or become defensive when given critical feedback or when they are challenged. Defending gets in the way of the enabling behaviors listed above since it stifles learning. Additionally, it has also been characterized as a potential career derailer (behaviors that cause individuals not to be promoted or to stall out for long periods in their careers) in work conducted CCL.

As an agile leader you can take your team and your company from good to great. Individuals with leadership agility are focused, confident and driven to lead. While it is true that not all of the factors are always exhibited all at once, it is believed that all must be present for an individual to be considered an agile leader.

So what can you do to develop leadership agility? Practice! Be curious. Listen. Reflect. Ask for feedback. Break out of your comfort zone thinking and take a calculated risk. These are all steps that can help you succeed in a business environment that rewards the focused, fast and flexible – the agile. Are you ready?

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