Taking Transformational Leadership to New Levels of Effectiveness

11/10/2016Taking Transformational Leadership to New Levels of Effectiveness

The pace of change is accelerating. Every company’s business environment is becoming more complex and interconnected. These powerful conditions require leaders and organizations who can exercise new levels of “agility”. But what, exactly, is leadership agility? How do you assess it, and how can you put your leaders on the path to the kind of agility that will make them more effective in today’s turbulent world?

Competency models tell us what worked well in the past. But what does effective leadership look like in an unprecedented new era where the pace of change is accelerating and success requires the management of increasingly complex relationships?

by Bill Joiner
Co-author of the Leadership Agility book
and President of ChangeWise

What is Leadership Agility?
Leadership agility is the ability to lead effectively when rapid change and uncertainty are the norm and when success requires consideration of multiple views and priorities. It requires a process of using enhanced awareness and intentionality to increase effectiveness under realtime conditions: stepping back from whatever one is focused on, gaining a broader perspective and bringing new insight into what needs to be done next.

Levels of Leadership Agility
Our research shows that leaders grow through a series of predictable, learnable, “agility levels” that are based on well-documented stages of personal development; and as they grow through the following three levels of leadership agility, they evolve from tactical problem-solvers into strategic managers, and then into farsighted, capacity-building leaders, always retaining the skills they gained at previous levels: 

Expert: Leaders who use their technical and functional expertise to make tactical organizational improvements, supervise direct reports, identify and solve key problems, and sell their solutions to others.
Achiever: Leaders who set clear organizational objectives, lead strategic change, motivate and orchestrate team performance, work across boundaries, and step up to challenging conversations.
Catalyst: Those rare leaders who operate at this level are visionaries who can lead transformative change, develop agile organizations and highly engaged teams, and collaborate with others to develop creative, high-leverage solutions to thorny organizational issues. (Currently, only about 5% of managers act with consistency at this level).


Work first with your Executive Team
No culture change effort is likely to be successful unless the organization’s top executives champion it (Kotter, 1996). When a change in leadership culture is needed, especially toward the Catalyst level, full-fledged leadership of the change by the executive team is absolutely essential. This team needs to learn to embody the new culture in its daily interactions with one another and with those they lead. The pace of change and degree of interdependence in today’s global business environment demands that corporations develop organizations where at least the top tiers of management are capable of functioning at the Catalyst level. 

To rise to this historic challenge, organizations need to help many of their Achiever senior managers grow into the Catalyst level and many of their Expert middle managers develop to the Achiever level. And they need to focus not just on the development of individuals, but also on the development of leadership teams and the leadership culture. The task of bringing a leadership culture to a new level of agility is not something that can be accomplished by a few heroic leaders. It is necessarily a collective undertaking.