Why is Leadership Agility Important?

Change, as the phrase goes, is the only constant. Change in business can occur on a massive scale through major efforts such as a merger or acquisition, or it can occur gradually over the course of corporate progression. In any case, leaders must be nimble and adaptive in order to drive or effectively manage change.

Leaders who cannot keep up with the rapid rate of change risk falling behind, losing trust, and ultimately failing to deliver outcomes. As a result, organisations must deliberately cultivate the key capacity of leadership agility in order to stay competitive and relevant.

In the face of uncertainty, leadership agility refers to the capacity to pivot rapidly, adapt swiftly, and make effective judgements. Being proactive, anticipating possible disruptions, and skillfully guiding people through change and ambiguity are also requirements.

Differentiating between Large-Scale and Incremental Change

Organisational change may take many different forms, but it is often divided into two types: large-scale change and gradual change.

Large-scale change entails considerable modifications in organisational strategy, structure, and/or culture, and is often fueled by macro, external marketplace forces such as technical advancements, globalisation, and altering customer needs. When executive leadership executes a merger or acquisition, announces a restructuring, or embarks on an enterprise-wide transformation, large-scale change may also emerge.

Large-scale change is generally disruptive and difficult for employees, since it frequently necessitates people and teams adapting to new methods of working, as well as new technology and leadership. When the status quo is disturbed, it is normal for employees to exhibit resistance, anxiety, and uncertainty.

In contrast, incremental change often entails smaller, more gradual adjustments. Internal pressures, such as a desire to improve efficiency, production, or customer pleasure, are typically driving this sort of transformation. Incremental change does not always have to be enterprise-wide; instead, it might be more localised within a division, function, location, or team.

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

How Organisations Navigate Large-Scale and Incremental Changes Successfully

Organisations may boost the probability of successful navigation by adhering to four principles, regardless of whether the change is massive or incremental:

Principle 1: Proactively assess the effect of change and business threats

People are more likely to resist change when senior leadership fails to completely and clearly express the rationale for change as well as the possible individual and organisational effect. Leaders must foresee the effect and possible dangers to the business, staff, and consumers in order to successfully navigate change. By doing so, executives may plan for potential impediments and roadblocks rather than reacting to them, reducing risks and negative effects.

Principle 2: Implementation should be planned and disciplined

Many authors have emphasised the significance of execution planning and collaborating with change agents at all levels of the organisation. A well-planned and disciplined implementation cascade, focusing on organisational, team, and individual levels, ensures that everyone participating in the change process understands their role and what is expected of them. This technique also allows for a systematic rollout, ensuring that any concerns are resolved in a timely, effective, and efficient manner.

Principle 3: Focus on organisational culture to speed up transformation

Every business has a culture. Steve Denning defines organisational culture in a Forbes article 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 employees welcome change is evident when individuals are eager to challenge the status quo, see that disruption gives possibilities for organisational and individual growth, and are at ease pivoting when necessary. Employees are quicker to accept and adjust in this atmosphere. A weak or resistant culture, on the other side, may impede or even undermine reform initiatives. Organisations may foster transformation and inspire collaboration by concentrating on organisational culture.

Principle 4: Prepare leaders to be change agents

Edgar H. Schein’s seminal study highlights the crucial role leaders play in cultural development and preservation, as well as driving and managing change. Leaders are in charge of explaining the need for change, directing teams through the transition, and ensuring that everyone is engaged, motivated, and performing to their full potential. Organisations may raise the chance of attaining the intended outcomes by providing leaders with the skills and resources they need to successfully manage change.

All Types of Change Require Leadership Agility

Effective and adaptable leadership is the key to success in both large-scale and gradual organisational transformation. Leaders must be able to convey the need for change effectively, involve people in the change process, and manage employee resistance to change.

Leaders must weigh the advantages of change against the potential for disruption and expense to the organisation. They must also determine the appropriate balance of gradual and large-scale change in order to maximise organisational effectiveness.

Why Is It So Difficult to Develop Leadership Agility?

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

4 Ways Learning and Development Can Curate Learning Solutions That Increase Leadership Agility

Leadership agility cannot be acquired overnight and necessitates a deliberate learning strategy that leads in meaningful behavioural change. Here are four strategies for learning and development (L&D) professionals to use when developing leadership agility.

A realistic framework should be used to support leadership agility training.

Most businesses are worried about training that is «sticky.» By fostering consistency and providing a consistent vernacular for the whole organisation, practical frameworks lay the groundwork for meaningful behaviour change at the macro level.

Concentrate on hands-on learning

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

Make training resources available

Adding real-world resource application to training events is a certain method to make learning more practical. Leader implementation toolkits and job aids for on-the-job reference are examples of resources.

Resist the impulse to do impromptu training

Leadership agility cannot be learned in a single training session. Learning experts should carefully design a learning path that enables leaders to continually learn and use leadership agility abilities.


In today’s quickly changing environment, large-scale and gradual changes need leaders who can successfully negotiate and balance the rewards and possible pitfalls of change. Leaders must be able to pivot swiftly, adapt nimbly, and make solid judgements in the face of uncertainty in order to successfully lead and navigate change. However, leadership agility is a complex and multifaceted skill that requires a significant investment of time and effort to develop.

Developing learning solutions that result in long-term, positive behaviour change might appear to be a daunting task. However, L&D professionals can improve organisational leadership agility by anchoring training in a practical framework, emphasising experiential learning, and aligning training with the organization’s goals.

Organisations that effectively equip their leaders to lead and negotiate complex change efforts have a better chance of achieving long-term competitive advantage and success in the market.

To hear Wendy Heckelman and Tianna Tye’s session, «Change Happens! Leadership Agility Is a Must.»


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