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Leader Agility
Its what sustains s
by Kevin Cashman
clever and catchy pieces of career advice Ive heard was uttered by advertising genius Bruce Barton, who invented Betty Crocker and gave General Motors and General Electric their names. He told leaders: When youre through changing, youre though. Indeed, the reality of leadership and career development is change or die. The entire c-suite community owes Ann Howard and her late husband Doug Bray thanks for the groundbreaking studies they conducted on AT&Ts behalf. Their research found that pre-selected high potentials were often outpaced by lower potential employees if the latter had the benefit of more development-oriented roles or managers teaching them to adroitly overcome career obstacles. Recently, research by Ken Brousseau and Rikard Larsson of Decision Dynamics and Gary Hourihan of Korn/Ferry International found that successful executives evolve their decision-making styles through their careers in a predictable patternfrom decisive to flexible to hierarchic to integrative. When workers try to leap to the head of the class without these intermediary steps or resist new learning in favor of stubborn old habits, they stall their careers. Many skills demanded of top leaders are the opposite of those valued early in their careers. Today, agility is key to succeeding as a leader. Business is more like a circus than a quiz bowl. Raw IQ contributes little if you cant embrace and operate in the gray zone that comes from other peoples ideas. We need learning agility, the set of interrelated talents that help people dexterously toggle mental, interpersonal, and results-focused approaches toward accomplishment and advancement. Leadership agility is one of the most powerful assets any leader can possessand one of the hardest to master. Executives repeatedly place change at the top of their list of challenges. Problems at the top are more multifaceted and ambiguous. The solutions


from a customized, concurrent development timeline that incorporates simultaneous product and manufacturing design, early systems integration and continual coordination and testing. Beyond ensuring the elements of the uccess. vehicle are top quality and fit together, Toyotas intensive approach enables it to run parallel-path development, more arent always familiar or formulaic. Moving from senior manager to VP strategically weigh design and engirequires you to keep growing, learnneering trade-offs, and capitalize on ing, and adapting to demands. new opportunities with flexibility. Its like rock-climbing. To get to the As opposed to a process reactively top, you need to look up regularly. Your based on compliance, Toyotas qualitymind, body and emotions must be centered approach increases durability attuned to the next challenge of the terand reliability, saving product and warrainthen the next. The approach must ranty costs that can instead be put alter according to the needs of each dan- towards innovation. In contrast to many ger and each opportunity ahead. As you carmakers sweating out the pressure to progress, the terrain is less worn and make more efficient, environmentally weathered. It feels different from when friendly vehicles, Toyota had the agile you started and requires you resources and mindset in to flex and stretch different the 1990s to make a longmuscles in new ways. range investment in hybrid To cultivate a productive technology. Their forward leadership culture, recogthinking experimentation nize the importance of brought about the Prius, learning agility. Michael winner of the Intelli-Choice Lombardo and his team at award. Lominger International This structure and proved that agile learning is development process are an important factor in idenjust two areas of a strategy tifying and selecting any candidate, of agility. Anchoring them are crucial regardless of gender, seniority or posi- career and leadership development tion. You need to consider two types of systems arming engineers with widetalent when hiring: those apparent, ranging experiences and preparing unchanging qualities that serve junior them to navigate change effectively. managers immediately and over time, These learning and people systems and those that dont emerge until a can- provide the greatest potential to leverdidate has been dealt a few wildcards. age change. Examples of stretch assignments meant Agility needs to be experienced from to bring about growth through change one level to another, and leaders-ininclude having the employee start pro- development need to exercise agility in jects from square one, fix something in multiple contexts, gaining exposure to need of repair, take assignments out of different experiences and patterns of ones home country, switch from line to work that can help them effectively find staff or vice versa, take big leaps in their way in future situations. Some terms of scope or scale and get expoindividuals need practice on mental sure to handling varying projects. agility, expanding their capacity for Agility: Both Skill and Strategy strategic and creative thinking. Others Leaders who recognize the importance need to be placed into results-driven of this issue know that agility underenvironments, where their success is lies more than just the development dependent on their ability to produce. and success of their talentit can be a People agility and change agility compowerful basis for strategy and comprise the biggest developmental needs. petitive advantage. Many leaders have the integrative Toyotas enviable product develop- ability to weave together the disjointment is a testament to the transforma- ed, to craft novel solutions, and to make tional power of orchestrating agile good decisions on the spot, even withsystems of people and processes. out complete data. Agility is a key to Departments in the Japanese autovibrant growth and to true leadership. LE maker take individual responsibility for Kevin Cashman, leader of the Coaching & Effectiveness Group at managing and improving functional Korn/Ferry, is author of Leadership From the Inside Out and areas like the power train, electronics or founder of LeaderSource, a Korn/Ferry Co. E-mail kevincashchassis. However, by no means are they man@leadersource.com. left in their silos. Instead, they benefit ACTION: Cultivate leadership agility.
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