Ep. 12: How To Be An Agile Leader

Who Is An Agile Leader?

How do charismatic leaders like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk capture an audience? Hint: it’s not by getting up on stage and talking about their own wants and needs. No, the secret to great leadership is this: great leaders understand their audience (employees, peers, bosses) and speak to their audience’s needs. In other words, Steve Jobs and Elon Musk practice agile leadership.

What An Agile Leader Can Achieve

An agile leader knows how to successfully motivate and influence their teams to accomplish amazing feats. You’ve been tricked in the past if you’ve been told to “play to your strengths”. That’s not great advice when talking about managing people because everyone has different communication / motivation preferences . To be an agile leadership, you can’t lead in a fixed way. Leadership Agility is actually about being a flexible enough leader that you can flex to meet the needs of your audience.

In this episode of Level Up Your Leadership, I break down:

  • What agile leadership is (and isn’t)
  • Why agile leadership can significantly improve your leadership ability
  • The proven 4-step agility method
  • How to be a more effective influencer, communicator, motivator, and overall people leader.

If you’re ready to get agile with your leadership to create greater results, tune in to this episode of Level Up Your Leadership wherever you love to listen to podcasts.  

OR you can read the full transcript below. Enjoy!


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Ep. 12: How To Be An Agile Leader

00:00:08 – 00:05:01

Welcome back to another episode of Level Up Your Leadership, the podcast exploring how 21st century leaders acquire the skills they need to thrive in the ever-changing digital workplace. I’m your host Lisa Christen, and I’m here today to talk about leadership agility. Why is leadership agility so important? And what exactly is it? This is a tool that’s going to help you to be infinitely more effective in how you motivate people, how you influence people, how you communicate with people because it helps you to understand How can I have the impact that I want to with these people in a new way that they’re going to be open and ready to listen and hear what I have to say? So hope you enjoy the next few minutes, where you learn the practical tools and tips on how to be agile in your leadership.

Welcome back to another episode of Level Up Your Leadership. I’m your host Lisa Christen and today, I’m here to talk about leadership agility. I know this is a hot topic because very often, people say to me, oh, we’re trying agile in our workplace and I’m sorry to disappoint. Today is not about agile as in the set of principles that our work processes that can help your team to move faster and innovation et cetera. This is about leadership agility, which I think is actually, possibly even more powerful and important, so you listen to this episode and you let me know what you think in the comments.

So what is the leadership agility when I talk about it? It’s this ability for leaders to really be able to think quickly, to act nimbly, and really remain flexible in responding to whatever challenges are coming up and coming their way. And why is that important? Why is that a skill that’s needed in the 21st century?. I think I don’t need to convince any of you who are working now that we live in this VUCA world, and I know that’s jargon. It’s this Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous world. We just don’t know what’s going to come up, what’s going to happen, how we’re going to have to change paths. And by the way, everything that we’re working on has usually never been done before. So we don’t actually know what the result will be or how we can quite measure it, what success will look like. It’s like everything’s up in the air and the World Economic Forum puts out this list of skills, you’re going to need to survive and thrive in the future of work in the skills that they listed for the year, 2022 it’s things like leadership and social influence, emotional intelligence, creativity and originality and having self-initiative. These are all the things that leaders need to be successful in the future, particularly with this digital era.

So I want to show you today what leadership agility is, and I don’t want to just tell you about this theory. I want to tell you, how you can practically start applying and using it in your work. So I’m going to start with an example with a person will call her Andrea and she works in pharmaceutical sales. She has this boss, John, and he sends out weekly emails to everybody on the sales team. And he’s talking about this bonus that’s going to be paid and how they have to really meet their quotas, because they’re going to earn lots and lots of money for meeting their quotas for anyone that works in sales. Maybe that sounds familiar to you. But there’s a problem with the way that John is motivating his team because Andrea, she’s not motivated by the money. So the intention, what John’s trying to do is to motivate her. But he’s assuming that she and other team members are motivated by money. And in fact, the actual impact that he’s having is actually de-motivating to Andrea because she’s not only not interested in the money, she’s a little bit offended that someone thinks she would be doing the job just for the money. So the intention is to motivate and the impact is that he’s not motivating the team at all. They’re being successful, perhaps in spite of his leadership.

So what’s number one most important lesson to know when trying to apply leadership, agility? It’s this: the golden rule, which we all learned as children do unto others as you would have done unto you. So in sort of easier words to find out treat others the way that you’d like to be treated. But that’s wrong. I know, I know, I know, you’ve been told all your life, treat others the way you’d like to be treated. It’s wrong. You really want to follow what’s called the platinum rule.

00:05:01 – 00:10:06

And the platinum rule is to treat others the way they want to be treated. Notice the slight difference. John might be motivated by money. So he says good, I’m motivated by money. I’m going to treat Andrea as though she’s motivated by money. But she’s not, and if he wants to get the most out of his team members, he has to treat them the way that they choose and want to be treated, and that’s at the heart of leadership agility.

So there are four steps to actually being able to do the real how of how do I start applying leadership agility, and step one is to have a self awareness of what are your preferences? What are you likely to try to impose on somebody else, and then step two is to gain an awareness of other people’s preferences. Now, sometimes you have the ability to actually just ask them: how would you like to be spoken to? how would you like to be treated? But often people leave clues. And if you’re just open to reading their clues in playing a little bit of detective, you can find that out on your own. Step three is to strategize. So how do I close that gap between what I’m likely to want to say someone or do to someone and what is it that they want? And then how do I bridge those two or how do I switch? Or what does that look like to be able to have the impact on that other person that I’d like to. And then step four is actually being skillful enough to flex out of your preference and into meeting the preferences of another person.

So for any of you who are avid listeners, and you listen to my episode number 11 about authenticity, I want to make sure that we take a pause here to talk about flexibility does not mean being fake. It does not mean pretending to be something that you’re not. So there are certain things that you definitely don’t want to flex on which are things like your moral standards, your personal values, your life purpose or life vision. Those are things that you really want to keep. You don’t want to flex away from those.

But there are areas that you do want to flex about yourself. And that’s a lot of times things like your personality. So your personality is just sort of your habits that you’ve built up over time, things that you prefer, how you prefer things to be, and it’s very comfortable if you can act aligned with your personality, but you do want to be flexible in there, because your personality should not actually always be dictating your behavior and agility is not about becoming a different person. I’m not saying you have to change your personality, but you want to recognize when your personality is getting in the way of serving a greater purpose or a bigger goal. And in that moment, flex to meet the needs of someone else, and you’re going to be surprised at what kind of results, you can get while still feeling authentic to yourself. So I want to take you through these four steps that I mentioned. Having a self awareness of your preferences, having an awareness of others preferences strategizing, how to bridge that gap. And then getting flexible actually doing the work won’t take you through a real example. And this is a very common one.

So we’ll go back to Andrea and her boss John, and I want to talk about influencing. Because that’s really what John is trying to do with Andrea and his team is motivating them, trying to influence them and the way that they work. So courtesy of the Influencing Style Indicator, which is an assessment that I use when training corporate leaders or sometimes private clients. It breaks influencing down into five really simple styles for influencing. So one is rationalizing just being rational focusing on data numbers facts to as a certain. So sometimes if you have the authority, you just say, I’m the boss just do it. If you’ve ever heard me talk to my kids, I try not to use this one but sometimes it sneaks out. Just put your shoes on (!!!), right? Number three is negotiating. So you want to talk about, okay, I’ll give this up, you give this up. But it’s both sides can get somewhere and move forward. Number four is inspiring. So we want to tell this great story we talk about our shared values. We have this big vision for how the world might be different. And then number five of influencing styles is bridging, so connecting with other people belting, relationship building coalitions. And we just break influencing down into these five styles and most people have a preference for one or two of them. So pop quiz, which style are you thinking is the best to use for influencing: rationalizing, asserting, negotiating, inspiring, or bridging? And the answer to that question is: all of them AND none of them No one of them is the best to use.

00:10:06 – 00:14:46

You might have a preference but you want to use them flexibly, depending on the situation. And that’s what’s happening with John and Andrea. So step one for John is to have a self-awareness. He probably has a preference for rationalizing. He’s very logical. Here are some numbers. You hit the numbers, you’re going to get this payout. That’s nice. Let’s do that. So often what people will do when they have a preference for a certain influencing style, like, John, he’s going to impose that on other people. So he’s going to say well, facts and numbers influence me. They convince me so that must work for other people. And by the way, people who don’t have awareness about flexibility will usually double down. So John says, I’m going to go to Andrea, I’m going to tell her about the money. Andrea’s not looking motivated. I’ll just keep showing her more facts and more data until she gets it.

By the way, that style doesn’t work because Andrea may never be convinced by just the number. She needs something more. So John goes to step two: what’s the awareness of Andrea’s preferences, and he’s going to play detective. What does Andrea talk about when she’s talking about her job and what motivates her? So she often is talking about the patients that she’s helping. She’s talking about the community. She likes to go and visit the hospitals to experience, you know, the medicines being administered firsthand. These are styles that are more aligned with maybe inspiring, or she likes to have this greater purpose to what she’s doing. And bridging, she really cares about the people. She wants to connect with the people at a deeper level. So now John’s going to go to step three and he’s going to strategize. How can he learn to flex into the styles that Andrea prefers? So how can he move more towards using inspiring styles and people bridging styles when he’s trying to influence and motivate her?

So then step four is actually being skilled enough to flex John says, maybe in this newsletter that I’m sending out to my teams to motivate them, instead of just saying you hit your numbers, and you get your money he’s going to now start including a client story in the mmail so they can talk about the impact. He might include some testimonials from doctors about how important and meaningful the medicine has been so that there’s more of that human touch, more of what’s going to influence Andrea.

Again, the whole point of leadership agility and being flexible is to find a way to fulfill the intention that you have, so you intend influence and motivate people. But often the impact that we have is that we don’t influence them because we’re using our preferences our habits and instead, we want to take our intention of influencing, and we want to find a way to have maximum impact, and that’s what John has done with Andrea and… guess what? Andrea is now a motivated employee! She’s doing great work. Nothing else really needed to change. Except for the way that John was flexible in motivating and influencing Andrea, and yes, it does take a little bit extra time for leaders to find these individualized programs for each of their employees for each scenario.

Let’s say you’re going into senior management. That’s going to look very different for what you present to them than to individual contributors who are new to the organization. Take the time to have just a few minutes to strategize who’s the audience what do they want what they care about? What’s impactful for them and be flexible in meeting the other people’s needs and you’re going to find that your leadership is taken to an absolute next level.

So I hope you have enjoyed this lesson. I hope you can use these lessons in your everyday life. Let me know send me emails, alright? I love to get feedback. If you have questions, be in touch, I’m always here to help.

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