‘Agile’ Leadership: Fact or Fiction?
‘Committed to improving the state of the world’. Improving the world is the mission of the World Economic Forum (WEF). The annual world leaders gathering took place in Davos from the 23rd to the 26thof January2018. 2500 leaders, scientists, artists, politicians and young leaders came together to discuss the developments in the world and in their own organisations. The forum participants are influential and are either leading a country or a large multinational. Well-known participants were Emmanuel Macron, Theresa May, Donald Trump and Justin Trudeau.
What are these leaders actually doing to improve themselves and to be successful leaders?
Last year, the theme of the forum was the mastery of the fourth industrial revolution. In the Fourth Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0, computers are taking over the work from people. An example is the self-driving car, a computer on wheels that will soon be transporting you, without you having to worry about it. The role of the driver fundamentally changes to that of a passenger. The operator only intervenes in difficult situations if the complexity for the computer becomes too great.
Something similar is happening more and more in organisations. The computer executes processes and people have an accompanying role when things get difficult.
Routine tasks in organisations will increasingly be performed by computers. Complex issues such as new customer questions, strategy, organizational development and personal development remain for the leaders and professionals. They must adopt an agile attitude and continuously respond flexibly to the complex questions that arise among clients, the organisation and the environment.
Leaders must work agile in order to manage all the changes properly; be quick and flexible. The main principles of agile working were established in 2001 by a number of experts from the computer world:
- Customer satisfaction through fast delivery (of usable software)
- Regular supply of new solutions and software (weekly rather than monthly)
- Changing of objectives is not only possible but even welcomed, also late in the process
- Day-to-day, close collaboration between developers and stakeholders
- Direct personal contact
- Self-organising teams
- Continuous adaptation to changing circumstances
Leading an agile organisation requires the leader to keep up with the developments in the organisation. He must understand that he is the supervisor of these developments, in which the people are central. Professor Klaus Schwab, founder of the WEF, states in his new book on the Fourth Industrial Revolution: “This time requires leaders to work together to shape a future in which people are at the centre, empowerment is important, and all new technologies are primarily tools for and through people”.
If the leader continues to think that he is the all-important factor, he will slow down the organisation. The organisation will then wait and see, instead of becoming faster and more flexible. Think of tribal wars in which the main man – usually an older male leader – doesn’t want fast young fighters to catch up with him. While the young fighters probably had already been able to win the battle before the main man had arrived on the battlefield. Like the driver of a self-driving car, the leader must separate himself from the operational organisation. His full focus needs to be on the next steps in the development of the organization and on the question of how he can best carry them out.
Vision and intuition
The leader must make use of his vision and intuition, as must the driver of the self-driving car, who, in precarious situations, can only surpass the computer with unprogrammable qualities such as insight and feeling. Intuition, in particular, was seen as irrational up until a few years ago. In agile thinking, this is being revalued. Modern leaders need to develop their intuition correctly, not only as an indispensable tool for making decisions, but also as a part of their personality that motivates and inspires people. Because of their intuition, leaders can manoeuvre through complex situations faster than a computer.
Leaders as an example
In the fourth industrial revolution, an agile leader is an example. Today’s leaders and professionals grew up in the third industrial revolution, in which leaders were leading and employees followed. In the new organisation, the employees will become leaders and the leaders will be guided. For employees to become leaders, they need the example of their leaders. However, this will only be possible if the leaders voluntarily give up their leadership position first.
Five ‘agile’ leadership skills are therefore:
- developing from a leader to a mentor;
- continuous professional and personal development;
- To develop intuition and vision;
- focus on the development of the organisation;
- Solving complex problems
Agile leadership is inevitable in an agile world. Leaders have to take on agile leadership. In a world that is changing faster than ever, they will have to adopt an agile attitude in order to be able to move with them. People, and leaders in particular, need to learn how to transform themselves in a transformative world.
Emmanuel Macron, Theresa May, Donald Trump and Justin Trudeau have been studying this matter for a few days. We are continuously monitoring how agile they are from day-to-day.