eLearning Skills 2030: Sharpening Agility

Balance Agility And Consistency To Lead Change

As machines become accurate and intelligent, we humans will need to sharpen our cognitive skills. One of your primary responsibilities as a Learning and Development leader is to ensure that you empower the workforce to develop the four sets of skills that are critical to thriving in 2030. A series of articles, eLearning Skills 2030, explores all the skills to make your job easier. This article, the eleventh in the eLearning Skills 2030 series, explores agility, why it is a critical skill, and how to sharpen it.

Why Is Personal Agility Important?

Personal agility drives organizationalagility. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “agile” means having a quick and resourceful character. Being agile is being nimble and adaptive in times of change, especially in times of crisis. Research shows a direct, positive relationship between personal agility and organizational agility, meaning that organizations are agile when led by agile leaders. McKinsey’s research [1] Points out that most leaders are not comfortable with uncertainty and are unable to function at speed during a crisis or spot opportunities and threats that emerge. Even skilled leaders struggle to embrace agility in the face of change. Many fall back to safe and conservative approaches, including overanalysis, which leads to paralysis, assigning a committee or task force to review, or shying away from the front lines altogether.

In his Harvard Business Review research, John Coleman states that the best strategic leaders balance agility with consistency and find themselves in the upper right quadrant of high consistency and high agility in a matrix plotting consistency and agility. [2] To be agile, you have to ask more open-ended questions to learn from others, be curious, and practice active listening. To be consistent, you must show up on time every time; you must communicate continuously and stay the course. However, you must be vigilant, as too much agility can make you lose focus, and too much consistency can make you a staid leader. To avoid these two extremes, you must strive to balance consistency and agility.

How Can You Sharpen Your Personal Agility?

As a leader, you need to sharpen your personal agility so that you will be able to guide your team and navigate at times of crisis. Apart from getting trained in the agile methodology, you will need to sharpen and concurrently leverage various skills, including asking better questions, actively listening, outsmarting your biases, and connecting the dots. The more you practice using these skills, the nimbler you will become in navigating complexity, change, and crises. Here are a few tried and tested tactics to help you sharpen your personal agility.

Embrace The Agile Methodology

The agile methodology emanated from software development. After being formally introduced through the Agile Manifesto in 2001, it has picked up significant momentum and has since transformed the way business is done across all industries. As Steve Denning discusses in his Forbes article, agile is centered on the customer and their needs and wants, and includes a framework that delivers products and services in rapid, iterative waves, as opposed to long, tedious, and rigid processes under the traditional waterfall approach. [3] As a leader who focuses on empowering the next generation of leaders in 2030 and beyond, you must get trained in agile and strongly encourage your team to do the same. Several industry associations and organizations offer agile training, including the Agile Business Consortium, the Agile Centre, Lean Kanban, Scrum.org, and the Scrum Alliance, among others.

Ask More And Better Questions

Asking better questions is an art that involves type, tone, and framing, among other elements. As discussed in a related article, there are close-ended questions, where the answer can be a simple “yes” or “no,” and open-ended questions, where the response includes more than one word. As a leader, you must be deliberate in asking open-ended questions that start with “how,” “why,” or “what.” Open-ended questions can help you and your team engage in expansive thinking, explore issues in more detail from various angles, and generate more possible avenues to a meaningful solution.

Foster A Listening Culture

As discussed in a related article, when you practice active listening, you slow down and process what you hear. By modeling better active listening skills, you can create a culture of active listening in the organization, which can help you and your team pinpoint pitfalls early and notice the early warning signs of trouble before they snowball into a full-blown crisis. Active listening also helps build trust, collaboration, and cooperation, which are vital in managing change and navigating crises. By modeling active listening, you foster a listening and learning ecosystem in your organization where team members listen to each other, learn from each other, and as a result, make sounder decisions to drive better business outcomes.

Outsmart Your Cognitive Biases

The intriguing thing about biases is that even when we are of them, they still may influence the way we think, decide, problem-solve, and act. It is critical to stay vigilant of biases so that you can outsmart them. Consider these three tactics described in detail in my related article. First, you must recognize the various types of cognitive biases and how they get revealed in daily life. Second, you need to pay attention. Be deliberate about detecting your own biases and make efforts to outsmart them as you evaluate information to solve a problem or plan. Third, you must continue asking yourself questions as you go through your decision-making process.

Slow Down To Go Fast

As paradoxical as it may sound, you need to slow down when making a decision so that you can go fast. A practical way to do this before a major decision is to engage the team in a rigorous one-day or two-day thinking session, where you can spend time with your team asking questions, exploring biases, and engaging in divergent thinking before you decide on a solution. Research by McKinsey asserts that this approach helps identify pitfalls early on and allows new ideas to emerge. [4] In practice, slowing down and not rushing down the first path of a solution has proven beneficial. Teams confirm that once they start implementing what was decided in the thinking session, they gain momentum during implementation.

As a leader today, you need to sharpen your personal agility and encourage your team to do the same so that they can lead and thrive in 2030 and beyond.

References:

[1] Leading with inner agility

[2] The Best Strategic Leaders Balance Agility and Consistency

[3] Explaining Agile

[4] Slowing down to speed up

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