Leadership in an Agile World

Concepts of leadership are evolving to keep pace with the disruption, transformation, and agility demands of today’s organizations. I can remember working in the early 70s on executive leadership programs at the Institute for Training and Development at GSPIA at the University of Pittsburgh, where we always began with McGregor’s X&Y theories of leadership and Contingency Theory.

There have been numerous attempts since then to blend the attitudinal and behavioral characteristics of leadership in an inclusive concept. For example, a quick Google toggle gave me: [https://www.google.com/search?q=leadership+theories&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-b-1]

  • Great Man Theory
  • Trait Theory
  • Behavioral Theories, Role Theory
  • Participative Leadership, Lewin’s leadership styles
  • Situational Leadership, Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership
  • Contingency Theories, Fiedler’s Least Preferred Co-worker (LPC) Theory
  • Transactional Leadership
  • Transformational Leadership

And these styles:

  • Coercive
  • Authoritative
  • Affiliative
  • Democratic
  • Coaching
  • Pacesetting

So has this made us any wiser in terms of promoting a single leadership concept and style? Jack Welch, former CEO of GE and business savant, has much to say about core issues related to corporate culture, from leadership and strategy, to processes and metrics. Most of his statements can be found at Jack Welch College of Business, Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, CN [https://www.sacredheart.edu/academics/jackwelchcollegeofbusiness/aboutthecollege/ , and theJack Welch Management Institute at Strayer University [https://jackwelch.strayer.edu/ ].

First off, as some observers have pointed out, GE is no longer the leading conglomerate it once was as that model of aggregating unrelated businesses did not survived the last century. So listening to his take on what makes a leader great needs to be taken in the context of the environment in which that leadership is exercised [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ojkOs8Gatsg&t=142s ]. Bottom line, it’s about people, regardless of the impact of AI on the workforce, it’s still about your human capital.

Welch says that a leader must be the chief “meaning” officer, clearly explaining where the organization is heading, why it is going there, and what the benefits are for all the stakeholder/employees. He noted that “people hate change,” and that is why clarifying the vision, mission, and strategy of the company is job #1. He then goes on to say that it’s important not to get rid of all the clutter because these linkages help breakdown silos and it’s more important to “broom away” the stuff that is in the way rather than the stuff that employees see as relevant to their everyday activities.

Finally, he talks about the importance of the “generosity gene” that celebrates when anyone accomplishes something. This includes having fun and celebrating all the little victories, not just the big ones.

Another perspective on leadership comes from an India-based consultancy http://thoughtleadership.in/.

From their experience, leadership is central to managing change. “A key leadership challenge is to initiate and lead systemic changes that will set the organization up for success in future. Indeed, nothing else perhaps sums up why we need a leader in the first place.”

In this regard, they emphasize the complexity and uncertainty in which leaders operate, “There are no guarantees that the chosen direction and pace will lead to a better situation, for the changes are too complex for anyone to understand and discern, let alone predict and assure.” One of the key demands on leaders is their ability to motivate and excite team members to embrace change and make it happen.

They identify 5 Key Behaviors that characterize a winning organization. It has a Growth Mindset, seeking new challenges that stretch their physical or cognitive skills; Staff have T-Shaped Skills reflecting both their expert knowledge and their ability to collaborate across boundaries. This leads to a willingness to help others create value, which builds a sense of reciprocity, which supports the development of winning teams that adapt as needed, with a core value of taking initiative.

How these notions come together in an agile organization is the topic of my next blog.

 

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