Becoming an agile leader to succeed amid disruption

Undoubtedly, leaders can never successfully reinvent their organisations unless they reinvent themselves first.

I also know that to change, reinvent, disrupt or whatever word you want to use is hard, but as leaders we need remember that whatever got us here today will not necessarily make us successful going forward.

Hence, I’d suggest that we need to constantly remind ourselves to keep the best of the past and change everything else that is necessary in order to move forward and reinvent. That means we need to fix the roof while the sun is shining because when the rain comes and change happens, whether it is cyclical or structural, it will be at an insanely rapid pace.

In this sense, I need to constantly remind myself as well that I need to reinvent myself from time to time.

In a world that never stops changing and where disruption happens at every second, leadership skills inevitably need to constantly transform to be able to adapt quickly to the changing business landscape, the demands of a new generation and advanced technology. Of course, this has always been the case — but the rate of change is increasing. These changes will certainly lead to dramatic and unexpected consequences for any organisation.

In fact, just keeping up with the rate of change already poses a significant challenge, much less anticipating and staying ahead of the curve. As a result, organisations that want to thrive in this business environment require leaders with the ability to change, learn, develop and adapt quickly as agility and improvisation are the key differentiators.

So what exactly is agility? Why does it matter in building tomorrow’s leaders?

Agility in the business context refers to a capability to anticipate and respond to any uncertainty in the market to one’s advantage. For example, if you can manage risk and respond to it more effectively than your competitor, then you could certainly reap the benefits. Being able to adapt to surprises and survive them will help you flourish in the ever-changing present at all levels of a company.

Although agility isn’t a high-profile feature of most organisations, it is clear that it is going to be a required feature for future success.

At the organisational level, strategic planning for plausible future risks and obstacles will help a company build plans that will survive and help it bounce back from adversity. At the individual level, one must develop the ability to use one’s experience and skills to avoid or survive setbacks, and to focus on a better future even if the present looks difficult. This is exactly why tomorrow’s leaders require agility need to lead through the ever-changing present.

While having leaders with agility is highly desirable, your organisation could still move at an unacceptably slow pace compared to others if all your people are not being encouraged to equip themselves with agility.

That’s why I must say that apart from embracing agility on your own, don’t forget to improve agility in your people. Make sure that they have the skills and abilities to respond quickly, and that you have the infrastructure and processes in place to mobilise this human capital into action as efficiently as possible. This way, you face a much better chance of staying relevant or even leaping ahead of the market.

In other words, agility doesn’t come naturally; it takes work and coaching. An agile organisation comes through staff that possess agile thinking and organisational systems that accommodate the capacity for change and adjustments.

Klaus Schwab, the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, once said: “In the new world, it is not the big fish which eats the small fish, it’s the fast fish which eats the slow fish.”

Simply put, we all should realise that it is no longer about what size fish you are, but it is the motion of the ocean that will determine your position in the market. Firms that are quick to develop and execute an effective strategy, regardless of their size, have the opportunity to stand out from competitors that are slower to adapt.

The bottom line is, do you think your organisation has a sufficient number of leaders with agility to lead it through change and any uncertainties that might arise in this disruptive world?

Arinya Talerngsri is Chief Capability Officer and Managing Director at SEAC (formerly APMGroup) Southeast Asia’s leading executive, leadership and innovation capability development centre. She can be reached by email at arinya_t@seasiacenter.com or www.linkedin.com/in/arinya-talerngsri-53b81aa

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