Leadership Principles: The 4th Industrial Revolution & COVID-19 Needs Agile Leadership

For the first time in our history we now have 4 generations of people coming together in the workplace at the same time. There are the Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y or Millennials and Generation Z. Each generation has different expectations, motivations, loyalties, sensitivities, values and career ambitions. To fulfil their potential each generation requires a different form of leadership.

For organisations to survive they must continuously adapt to the fast changing landscape in the workplace and the rapid advance of digital technology driven by the 4th Industrial Revolution. Key to future success is the speed, agility and authenticity with which organisation leaders adjust to the changing needs, expectations and ambitions of their evolving and diverse workforce talent. COVID-19 is also adding to this leadership challenge as most organisations re-imagine the workplace and as people return to work and become accustomed to new ways of working, collaborating and communicating.

The temptation for leaders to fast tracking changes by imitating the success of others may be appealing. In some situations learning from others is a credible approach, however, imitation without purpose, principle and authenticity is a shortcut to disappointment.

Faking it by simply copying role models without any adjustment to your own situation will inhibit sustainable learning and the benefit, if any, is generally short lived. Without understanding the beliefs, values and thinking of role models you imitate only that which is visible and fail to comprehend the psychology and principles behind their success.

To maintain authenticity your behaviour must be, and seen to be, consistently aligned with your beliefs, values, and principles otherwise the people you lead will be confused, will not understand the way you think and worst of all, they will not trust you. The people you lead see you as their role model and because you lead by example, the lowest standards you exhibit are likely to be the highest standards you can expect from them.

I have been leading and growing high performance teams throughout my career and I learned the importance of leadership principles to guide me through the most challenging of situations. From my experience I developed a set of Agile Leadership Principles that I found to universally valuable and enabled me to establish a culture of unambiguous trust trusted within the organisations I have led.

Whether or not these resonate with you, establishing and upholding your own set will enable the people you lead to know how you think, what is important to you, what they should expect from you and is the first step in the creating your own agile leadership culture.

The foundation upon which I developed my agile leadership principles began with the definition of, and the distinction between, leadership and management.

In my experience of leading and being led, I believe Leadership and Management are terms which are often misused and so here below are the definitions that used to underpin my agile leadership approach.

‘Management is the ability to control others to achieve’

Management is about operating in ‘steady state’ or normal conditions. It is the day-to-day administration, supervision of an organisation established through control systems and imposing rules to regulate behaviours. It is very much about directing, controlling and authority, especially using financial instruments.

‘Leadership is the ability to inspire others to achieve’

Leadership is about giving direction, stimulating others to work willingly and passionately, building and maintaining teamwork, providing a preferred example of behaviour and producing a personal contribution that is visible.

‘Agile Leadership is the ability to inspire and support others to continuously achieve, learn and grow in conditions of constant and rapid change’

As with Leadership, Agile Leadership is about giving direction, stimulating others to work willingly and passionately, building and maintaining teamwork, providing a preferred example of behaviour and producing a personal contribution that is visible and celebrated.

It is also about creating an enabling environment that inspires others to understand their individual and collective purpose, continuously learn and grow, anticipate, initiate and promote change and take the necessary action to improve with energy and speed. Continuous learning and transforming new learning into action are critical elements of Agile Leadership. The speed of acquiring new knowledge and transforming it into action provide the most valuable competitive advantage any individual and organisation can have.

Principles of Agile Leadership

As a role model, you lead by example and the scope of your leadership should not only address the ‘big issues’ it should also embrace the ‘small stuff ’and attention to detail. The people you lead observe every detail of your leadership including the small stuff. So and it is often necessary to exaggerate your behaviours and actions towards them in order for your attention on them to be noticed. As you foster a culture based on your leadership approach never underestimate the positive impact you will have on the motivation of your people in taking care of the ‘small stuff’.

The strength of an Agile Leader lies in their self-awareness, understanding of their present situation and current limitations and their commitment to life-long learning to overcome them. For those in leadership roles who want to inspire a culture of life-long learning, achievement and growth for their people, they too must be inspired to learn continuously, achieve and grow.

From my many years of experience in building, leading and developing multi-cultural, diverse teams, I developed the following 7 principles that are the foundation of my approach to Agile Leadership:

  • Purpose
  • Integrity
  • Solidarity
  • Empowerment
  • Transparency
  • Innovation
  • Agility

I openly shared these principles with pride, conviction and belief and when embraced by the people I had the pleasure to lead, they enabled outstanding collective results to be achieved.

Purpose

  • Purpose explains our cause, beliefs and values, why you care and the real reason you are in a leadership role;
  • It explains your direction, why you are in the organisation, your motivation and what ‘gets you up in the morning’; and
  • It motivates others to build relationships with you, explains why people choose to work with you and it inspires talented people to join your team.

Integrity

  • Integrity integrates your team, creates trust and eliminates fear;
  • It is about warmth and engaging your heart as well as your mind, caring about what is being done and how, being considerate towards others and having the personality and character that inspires (‘cold fish’ do not make good leaders);
  • Integrity is about authenticity, being honest about who you are, in your work ethic and the relationships with your people and the strict adherence to moral and ethical standards;
  • It is also about visible self-confidence to do what you say you will when making commitments and delivering on them;
  • It is about working with others in a simple and straightforward way and treating people with courtesy and respect and with appropriate humour when needed to relieve tension, maintains a sense of proportion and makes work fun;
  • It is about humility, the opposite of arrogance and being a good listener, no overwhelming ego, facing up to mistakes and freely admitting and correcting them quickly – recognising when we are wrong and not blaming others – regularly sharing praise and not being selfish or divisive; and
  • It is about being consistently and persistently principled in making decisions, particularly the difficult ones, and openly and honestly explaining actions and decisions.

Solidarity

  • Solidarity is about promoting diversity and mobilising the people you lead as a team to secure collective success and that through mutual inclusive support and teamwork everyone is both individually and collectively responsible;
  • It is about working with and for each other, recognising there is only one collective agenda and not thinking about who gets the credit because in the end everyone does; and
  • It is about industry – guiding everyone efficiently and effectively with energy, steady application and perseverance to deliver results, preventing the team from giving up and ensuring everyone understands how teamwork contributes to collective success.

Empowerment

  • Empowerment is about creating a secure, safe and trusting environment for the people you lead that gives them the necessary confidence and support to make informed decisions;
  • It means creating a culture of decision making based on principles, facts and data with appropriate attention to detail and avoiding the temptation to rely on opinions especially when resolving critical issues or making difficult decisions;
  • It is also about ensuring decisions are made at the best place in the organisation by involving those with the relevant knowledge and experience and, where appropriate, those directly affected;
  • It is about providing people with the means to solve problems and not just live with them (e.g. the ‘dripping tap syndrome’) and giving people the ability to escalate problems to the level in the organisation where they will be solved; and
  • It is about empowering people to identify and eliminate limiting constraints and assumptions, unnecessary rules, processes, procedures and dysfunctional conventions.

Transparency

  • Transparency is about openly and willingly sharing collective knowledge and experience and supporting others to learn achieve and grow;
  • It is about genuinely listening to people, acting on their ideas and providing constructive feedback;
  • It is about openly and honestly recognising both collective and individual responsibilities; and
  • It is about treating all people with fairness, removing the barriers to effective, efficient and honest communication and engaging with people to give them a genuine sense of involvement.

Innovation

  • Innovation is about creating a safe environment for the people you lead to take measured risks in trying out new ideas and encouraging and rewarding people who have the courage to take such risks;
  • It is about providing the necessary resources to investigate and test new ideas and ensuring appropriate time is made available for people to work on innovation; and
  • It is about considering new ideas seriously across all areas of the organisation with constructive challenge, feedback and support and being tolerant of failure if new ideas do not work.

Agility

  • Agility is about anticipating change, being responsive to change and acting with speed, accuracy and energy when implementing change;
  • It is about being flexible when unforeseen situations arise, adapting quickly with fast decisions to overcome barriers that block progress and solving the problems not simply living with them;
  • It is about understanding and explaining the real constraints that have an honest influence on people and the organisation whilst eliminating the imaginary constraints and barriers that have built up over time and have a detrimental impact on the organisation; and
  • It is also about responding speedily to the request of others even though they may not appear to be a priority and doing everything possible to solve problems even if they do not fall directly under individual responsibilities.

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