The 5 attributes agile leaders share

The concept of ‘business as usual’ continues to evolve – and leaders need to continually adapt. As Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau remarked, “the pace of change has never been so fast, yet it will never be this slow again.”[1] To both perform and transform in this environment, enterprise leaders will need an agile mindset.

More recent global events have only further accelerated this need to adapt. And that requires a ‘radically human’ leader who can transcend the boundaries and interests of their function, geography, region or even organisation, and find new ways to create value and fulfil the purpose of their enterprise.

Mindsets are the foundation of your capacity to grow as an enterprise leader. An agile mindset gives you the ability to pivot between perform and transform capabilities – to meet the demands of today’s operations, and make sure the organisation’s agenda is relevant for the future. By recalibrating the lens through which you see, understand and experience the world, you can overturn entrenched beliefs and assumptions, and look beyond the siloes of a business function or role.

This is a powerful thing. An agile mindset can be a force multiplier – accelerating and energising the performance of others. And it’s also empowering for individual leaders. It puts ownership of your development and growth firmly in your own hands. You have control over how you show up, and when you do things differently you can see the impact.

With this power comes responsibility. And it’s a responsibility every leader holds, at every level of the organisation. An agile mindset enables everyone to contribute.

There are five distinctive mindset shifts needed to become an agile leader. Some of these fundamental beliefs may come naturally, and others may require more conscious behavioural shifts.

1. Purpose

Agile leaders need to be driven by purpose, with a clear vision of what they believe in. This is what enables you to both perform and transform. A collective sense of purpose also makes leaders much more powerful as an enterprise team.

2. Courage across and beyond

With the courage to step up and push out of your comfort zone, you can challenge assumptions, and address problems and opportunities – even when those views are unpopular, challenging, or outside your direct control.

Culturally, this can be challenging for some leaders in the APAC region. Societal norms around hierarchy, gender and respect mean leaders may need to let go of much of what they have been taught. And they can only do this if they feel they are operating in a safe, inclusive environment.

3. Awareness of self and impact

This can be a game-changer – because it’s not a lack of skills that holds many potential leaders back, but what they believe about themselves and their ability to contribute. What are the barriers you put up to prevent your own success – and how can you change that narrative?

For example, can you step outside your own function and look at the issue from a whole-enterprise perspective? Even if you don’t have experience in a certain area, ask – it may be the question that sparks a new idea or circuit-breaks a dysfunctional conversation or process.

4. Inclusion that multiplies

Enterprise leaders need to believe that inclusion has a positive multiplier effect – that the more you listen to all the voices in the room, the better the impact for the entire organisation. This is essential if you want to support other leaders to have courage and belief in their own contributions.

5. Integrative thinking

The final piece of the puzzle is often the most challenging because it’s human nature to simplify complex challenges within a linear process. The reality is we are in a state of constant change – we are operating in dynamic ecosystems, where problems will continue to evolve, and competitors may also need to be partners. Agile leaders can continually adapt to resolve those tensions. And this can be the ultimate silo-breaker – removing traditional boundaries and hierarchies.

These five mindset shifts are the key to becoming an enterprise leader who can both perform and transform an organisation.

It’s important to note the shifts can be incremental. For example, we are working with a Fortune 500 organisation in the energy sector that needs to completely reinvent its operating model over the next 20 years – while still maintaining current revenue. By helping its leadership team develop a more agile mindset, we are seeing their conversations change – from heated debates over resource priorities within siloed business units to making enterprise decisions – many of them challenging and transformational – as a team that will move them closer to realising their ambitions.

Ultimately, the mindset you bring to any relationship is within your control. Including with yourself ­– with an agile mindset you can challenge assumptions about yourself, and pivot and grow in areas you never imagined.

And this is a powerful realisation.

Imagine a world where we all operate with an agile mindset. Only then can we, as Justin Trudeau suggested, “flip the switch” and see new possibilities to think beyond business as usual.

[1] WEF - Justin Trudeau's Davos address in full