by James Craft, Enterprise and Development Manager at TEDCO
Running a business is a balance of planning ahead and getting from one moment to the next. The various challenges entrepreneurs face in their daily tasks makes agility and flexibility paramount to business success.
This is the topic I’ll be looking at in this piece. Every month, I’m tackling the various qualities it takes to be a leader, asking whether leaders are ultimately born or made. By outlining the skills needed to run an SME, I hope to help entrepreneurs make the most of their abilities and resources for greater business success.
What does agile leadership mean and why is it important?
Agile leadership refers to the ability to resolve business questions and issues effectively and efficiently. In the fast-paced world of business ownership, you can’t afford to hesitate. Agile leadership tackles the prospect of impossible business hurdles and suggests breaking them down into more manageable tasks, helping you stay on course and stay agile.
This is a mindset suggested by Edward Morrison in his 2019 book Strategic Doing: Ten Skills for Agile Leadership. In it, Morrison states: “we can never boil the ocean simply because there is too much water. In the same vein, we can never make much progress, if we set ourselves up with an impossible task from the start.”
In other words, big jobs are better broken down into more manageable tasks. Smaller projects can unite teams, create shared ownership, break down business silos and result in immediate actions.
Agile leaders must lead by example if they expect agile solutions
The main criticism to Morrison’s approach is that, if the leader sets project parameters too large or too small, workers may fail at the first hurdle. It’s important to have the right people in the room who are 100% behind the project in question, especially if it involves external collaboration. Morrison’s approach is likely to be more controlled if applied internally first. Piloting a project internally, could also help to reduce silo mentality and increase internal collaboration.
This is where leading by example is so important. A leader who stands with his or her people on the front line, rolls up their sleeves and shares the workload can hold significant value for some. Others might argue that leaders set direction to their workforce. Either way, leaders must be seen to put just as much effort into projects as they’re expecting from their workforce in order to achieve agile results.
In Strategic Doing, Morrison describes successful agile leadership as being able to inspire deep conversations, box problems into projects with immediate and measurable actions.
Truly agile leadership goes hand-in-hand with forward planning
Agile leadership is all about breaking down problems for faster resolution, and this requires everyone involved to be on the same page, with a clear awareness of the problems being faced. Collaborative actions with everyone involved, could help to create an inclusive environment. Leading by example, taking ownership and holding colleagues accountable, can be a conduit for real change in less time. Sharing collective ownership of projects and everyone pulling in the same direction towards strategic goals.
Regular meetings each month to check on progress and to re-focus staff could be a framework for success. Starting internally could then lead to external collaboration once the strategy is proven to harbour success.
Perhaps ironically, agile leadership is improved when leaders have several projects in mind before engaging in workforce discussions. Careful consideration into the range and scope of projects before inviting wider staff input can keep things moving at an even steadier pace. In other words, in order to be truly agile in your approach to business, you need to plan ahead.