People agility has emerged as a ‘must-have’ capability for leaders in today’s complex and dynamic business world.
Not only do leaders need to navigate this turbulent environment successfully themselves, but they also need to be the enablers for their people to solve problems and deliver results.
One way they can create the inclusive, collaborative and innovative culture their organisations need is by consistently demonstrating a desire to explore, discover and learn with others.
Simply put, it’s about being agile in the way they engage with their people. However, many strategic and operational demands on senior executives can get in the way.
People agility defined
At first glance, people agility seems to describe the capacity to get on well with others, but there is more to it than that. People agility is the ability to take an open-minded, curious and flexible approach to people, looking for diverse opinions to broaden mutual understanding and achieve common goals.
People agility is also about communicating clearly, adjusting the style, pace and message to the audience. It’s being willing to take on a different viewpoint depending on the person or circumstances. People agile individuals learn quickly how to hear out opposing views and take care not to incite or escalate tension or conflict.
These characteristics are rounded out by the ability to read people well and predict how individuals and groups will respond to various events and situations and being ready and willing to help others to excel. This is often referred to as ’emotional intelligence’ or EQ.
This is the second of five blogs on why Learning Agility matters for executive success, with specific tips for enhancing the people agility dimension for yourself and others.
Leading involves understanding the social needs of people, including those who consider themselves focused on tasks rather than people. It must be recognised that social engagement is fundamental to human health and well-being which has a significant impact on organisational performance.
Dr Matthew Lieberman, neuroscientist and author, describes social engagement as a fundamental requirement built into our biology along with the basic needs for survival. In his book Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect he suggests that it deserves to be at the foundation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Infants embody the need to be connected because they are totally dependent on their caregiver(s) and the quality of care they receive has been shown to influence their cognitive and emotional development. The effects can last a lifetime.
So, what are the implications for business leaders? They need a mindset that helps them focus on:
- Recognising the need for people to ‘belong’ and emphasising the importance of the team.
- Facilitating open dialogue with a wide variety of contributors and stakeholders.
- Breaking down barriers to collaboration across the organisation.
- Building a sense of community connected to a higher purpose.
People orchestration skills
In his book Know-How, Ram Charan describes skills that separate leaders who perform from those who don’t. One of those skills is the ability to manage the social system of their business so people can work effectively and cooperatively together.
As many of us recognise this isn’t always easy, and the title of that chapter tells us so – Herding Cats!
Charan says that building the right social system requires making superb judgments on people, knowing how to select them, get them into the right jobs and help them build the skills to lead. He says this is highly developable.
So is people agility. Each of its elements is described in behavioural terms, so with targeted and systematic efforts leaders can adopt the practices used by great people leaders.
Tips for increasing people agility
- Keep an open mind by suspending judgment. Listen to what people are saying and find clues about how they formed their opinions. Think about why you might differ and how you can reach common ground.
- Take time to get to know your people, make sure you are aware of their strengths, weaknesses and career aspirations and check in regularly. Don’t assume you know.
- Be alert when decisions are to be made, by being present and in the moment. Stop and consider whether you have all the facts in unfamiliar situations. Look for anything you are missing and read the people in the room.
- Slow down when you disagree with others. Choose your words carefully so you don’t appear biased. Focus on the issue at hand, not the person.
- Set people up for success by sharing what you know. Be an advocate for people you believe in and make sure you give credit where it’s due.
- Build a network for yourself outside your immediate circle. Connect with individuals and groups who don’t know each other so you than can access new information and fresh thinking.
The future of work
The rapid pace of change today brings a need to transform the way we do business and find new ways of working. We are in the midst of a massive shift, evidenced by the trend to flexible working, remote teams, coworking spaces, artificial intelligence and more.
Add to this the fact that people are living longer and retiring later, whilst younger people are now entering the workforce. This means that, for the first time, we have five generations in the workplace and must accommodate the different needs and expectations of those groups.
Last year research conducted by PWC published the results of a global survey of business and HR leaders. In a paper entitled Preparing for tomorrow’s workforce, today, they note that the most astute leaders must ask the question: “How can I deliver great performance by helping our people to thrive?”
Yes, indeed! The need for leaders to cultivate people agility has never been greater!
If you would like to see how leaders can create a circle of trust to build cooperation and collaboration, check out Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk – Why good leaders make you feel safe.
Sinek says that doing this, especially in an uneven economy, is a big responsibility for leaders – but it’s the key to helping ordinary people achieve extraordinary things.