Why Is Leadership Agility Important?

The only constant in life, as the cliché goes, is change. Change in business can occur on a huge scale during major undertakings such as a merger or acquisition, or it can occur incrementally over the usual course of corporate progression. In any case, pushing or effectively managing change need leaders who are nimble and adaptive.

Leaders that are unable to keep up with the quick rate of change may fall behind, lose credibility, and finally fail to deliver outcomes. As a result, organisations should purposefully cultivate the crucial capacity of leadership agility required to stay competitive and relevant.

Leadership agility is defined as the capacity to pivot rapidly, adapt swiftly, and make effective judgements in the face of uncertainty. It also includes being proactive, anticipating future disruptions, and skillfully guiding people through change and ambiguity.

Identifying Large-Scale vs. Incremental Change

Organisational change may take various forms, but it typically falls into two categories: large-scale change and gradual change.

Large-scale change entails considerable modifications in organisational strategy, structure, and/or culture, and is often driven by macro, external marketplace forces such as technical advancements, globalisation, and altering customer needs. Large-scale change can also occur when senior leadership implements a merger or acquisition, announces a restructure, or embarks on an enterprise-wide transformation.

Large-scale change is generally disruptive and demanding for employees, since it frequently necessitates individuals and teams adapting to new methods of working, as well as new technology and leadership. When the status quo is disturbed, it is not unusual for employees to show opposition, anxiety, and struggle with ambiguity.

Incremental change, on the other hand, often entails smaller, more gradual adjustments. Internal pressures, such as the goal to improve efficiency, production, or customer happiness, are frequently driving this sort of transformation. Incremental change is not usually enterprise-wide, but might be more localised within a division, function, region, or team.

Because incremental change involves smaller adjustments to existing processes and structures, it is generally less disruptive and easier to implement than large-scale change. Employees may still have comparable reactions and emotions.

How Organisations Successfully Navigate Large-Scale and Incremental Change

Whether the change is huge or little, organisations may improve their chances of success by adhering to four principles:

Principle 1: Evaluate the impact of change and business risks as soon as possible

Change may be unpleasant, and individuals are more likely to resist when senior leadership fails to completely and clearly express the rationale for change as well as the possible individual and organisational consequences. To effectively navigate change, executives must foresee the impact and possible dangers to the organisation, workers, and consumers. By doing so, leaders may proactively plan for, rather than reactively address, possible impediments and roadblocks, reducing risks and negative effects.
How Organisations Successfully Navigate Large-Scale and Incremental Change

Principle 2: Use a well-planned and controlled implementation cascade

Many authors have emphasised the importance of execution planning and working with change agents at multiple levels of the organisation. A planned and disciplined implementation cascade focusing on organisational, team, and individual levels ensures that everyone participating in the change process understands their position and knows what is expected of them. This method also allows for a methodical rollout to guarantee that any difficulties are resolved in a timely, effective, and efficient manner.

Principle 3: Accelerate change by concentrating on organisational culture

Every organisation has a culture. In a Forbes article, Steve Denning defines an organization’s culture as «an interlocking set of goals, roles, processes, values, communication practises, attitudes, and assumptions [that] fit together as a mutually reinforcing system.»

A strong, vibrant culture in which workers welcome change is evident when individuals are prepared to question the status quo, see that disruption presents possibilities for organisational and individual growth, and are comfortable pivoting when necessary. Employees in this atmosphere are more likely to adopt and adapt. A weak or resistive culture, on the other side, may stifle or even sabotage reform initiatives. Organisations may foster a culture of transformation and collaboration by concentrating on organisational culture.

Principle 4: Prepare leaders to lead the transformation

Edgar H. Schein’s seminal study emphasises the crucial role leaders play in cultural development and preservation, as well as in driving and managing change. Leaders are responsible for explaining the need for change, directing teams through the transition, and ensuring that everyone is engaged, motivated, and performing effectively. Organisations may improve their chances of success by providing leaders with the skills and resources they need to successfully manage change.

Leadership Agility Is Required for All Types of Change

Effective and adaptable leadership is essential for the achievement of both large-scale and gradual organisational transformation. Leaders must be able to effectively convey the need for change, involve people in the change process, and manage opposition to change.

Leaders must weigh the advantages of change against the possible disruption and expense to the organisation. They must also determine the best balance of incremental and large-scale change to maximise organisational success.

Why Is It So Difficult to Train for Leadership Agility?

Leadership agility is a sophisticated and multifaceted skill set that combines cognitive, emotional, and behavioural abilities. Developing these qualities necessitates a major investment of time and effort, as well as a willingness to question old mindsets and behaviours.

4 Ways L&D Can Curate Learning Solutions That Drive Leadership Agility

Leadership agility cannot be achieved overnight and requires a deliberate learning solution that leads in meaningful behavioural change. Here are four ways that learning and development (L&D) professionals can drive true behaviour change when developing leadership agility.

A realistic framework might help to anchor leadership agility training

Most organisations are worried about training becoming «sticky.» Practical frameworks lay the groundwork for meaningful behaviour change at the macro-level by fostering consistency and offering a consistent vernacular for the whole organisation.

Emphasise hands-on learning

Leadership agility training should emphasise experiential learning, in which leaders learn to apply the framework to real-world business situations and practise behaviours in a safe and controlled setting using simulations and/or role-playing activities.

Provide materials to make instruction more realistic

Rounding out training sessions with real-world resource application is a sure-fire approach to make learning more practical. Resources may include leader implementation toolkits and task aids for rapid reference on the job.

Refrain from impromptu training

Leadership agility is not a talent that can be learned in a single training session. Learning professionals should carefully craft a learning path that motivates leaders to repeatedly learn and use leadership agility abilities.


Large-scale and gradual changes in today’s quickly changing environment need leaders who can successfully negotiate and balance the rewards and possible pitfalls of change. Leaders must be able to pivot swiftly, adapt rapidly, and make solid judgements in the face of uncertainty in order to successfully lead and navigate change. Leadership agility, on the other hand, is a complicated and diverse ability that demands a large investment of time and effort to master.

Developing learning solutions that result in long-term, beneficial behaviour change might seem daunting. L&D professionals, on the other hand, may improve organisational leadership agility by anchoring training in a practical framework, emphasising experiential learning, and connecting training with the organization’s goals.

Organisations that effectively equip their executives to lead and negotiate complex change efforts stand to gain a long-term competitive edge and success in the marketplace.

Register for the upcoming Training Industry Conference & Expo (TICE) to hear Wendy Heckelman and Tianna Tye’s talk, «Change Happens! Leadership Agility Is a Critical Capability.»


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