Eight Characteristics of Agile Leaders
With 10,000 baby boomers retiring every day, the construction industry is in a race to fill vacant leadership seats with candidates who are as competent as they are agile. Defined as the power to move quickly and nimbly while thinking on your feet and acting decisively, agility helps leaders tackle the challenges of today’s business environment while also thinking about the bigger picture and planning for the future.
Based on extensive observation, research and practice around leadership, FMI has determined that Peak Leaders—those who exemplify what it means to be a leader—exhibit eight key behaviors. This framework can be used to identify, support and develop agility in your own leaders:
1. Agile leaders set direction. Never afraid to stand up and take charge, agile leaders have a clear sense of direction and communicate it with ease. They understand how organizations, teams and other constituents can respond to a changing industry. They see the big-picture vision and the path to getting there. Finally, agile leaders will continuously clarify the direction for others and empower people to achieve the organization’s vision.
2. Agile leaders execute and follow through with calculated speed. When critical business opportunities or project challenges arise, agile leaders know how to balance quick decisions with careful planning and organizing in order to maximize results. They know how to communicate effectively to drive buy-in among key stakeholders as well as push accountability among team members. Because agility requires speed, clear communication is essential for the agile leader. Teams working with agile leaders understand their roles, know what results they are accountable for, and are empowered to get there.
3. They know how to effectively align resources. Tight budgets and a lack of resources aren’t a problem for agile leaders. Rather than complaining or allowing these challenges to stop them, leaders who show agility can leverage those around them to address even the smallest items. They understand how everyone fits into the big picture and how team members will be integrated into an operational change or the adoption of a new game-changing strategy. They are inclusive and understand the power of utilizing resources effectively. They also spot hurdles on the horizon and know how to get those obstacles out of the way so that their people can move swiftly in the right direction.
4. Agile leaders inspire others to achieve seemingly impossible goals. The best leaders can effectively infuse their passion into others and help employees achieve their own goals. In some cases, agile leaders can even help others tackle achievements that seemed impossible at the outset. They also motivate others to be early adopters to new strategies or procedures, even when change seems difficult. Agile leaders move others from what they’ve always done to a new way of being, all while factoring in their team members’ individual perspectives.
5. They put the spotlight on others. Agile leaders possess strong emotional intelligence: They know how to focus on the needs and emotions of others and respond appropriately. So while agile leaders embrace change, they don’t leave bodies in the wake of that change. Instead, they understand that change can trigger emotions like fear and uncertainty, and they provide their team members with positive energy and a sense of confidence. Agile leaders help others move from feeling fearful to accepting a challenge for change. This is an extremely important quality in today’s VUCA world where change is both inevitable and unpredictable.
6. Agile leaders know how to think strategically. In their quest to find answers and underlying truths, agile leaders know how to ask the tough questions, and they don’t settle for surface responses. They focus on the horizon with the aim of spotting strategic opportunities that others haven’t seen yet. They spot how an operational change might negatively impact another part of the business, for example, and then quickly address the issue. They know when to utilize intuition and gut instinct, but they also know when to dive deeper into the data to make the best possible decisions for their organizations.
7. They understand the talent development process. Agile leaders have the humility and foresight to know that they can’t tackle the organization’s problems alone, so they inspire others to grow along with them. They spot individuals who are excited about learning and then they provide them with the opportunities for development. Agile leaders believe that leaders themselves are responsible for their own development and they should have access to achieve development.
8. Agile leaders lead from within. Perhaps most importantly, agile leaders aren’t afraid of challenges or failure. They view mistakes as learning opportunities. They are kind to themselves and balance a push for self-excellence with an understanding that fumbles are part of leadership development. They understand their own strengths and weaknesses and set clear goals for self-development. The agile leader values all types of learning and can spot applications to their roles, teams and organizations. Lastly, the agile leader is a role model; he or she is an example of adaptability and commitment to self-growth.
Some leaders are inherently more agile than others, but our research shows that this trait can be fostered and developed. The pivotal mistake many firms make is assuming that promotions, new assignments and ladder climbing provide their leaders the “experience” to be successful. However, time and technical training do not guarantee that your leaders will develop the skills they need to lead your business. Growth opportunities should be customized to specific leaders and should focus on the eight key traits outlined in this article to develop agility. By pulling from those traits and FMI’s Peak Leader framework, you can effectively nurture and develop agile leaders in any business environment.
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