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Motorcycle riding is a passion for me. The passion and challenge of the weekend rides keep me focused and agile during the week. So why link motorcycle riding to agility? Riding a motorcycle uses all of your senses. You feel the elements, you shift your body to steer, your eyes scan the road ahead, and all your limbs are used for controls. You can’t put it on cruise control and recline the seat; riding takes all your attention.
To be successful in riding, you need to read the road, adapt rapidly to the conditions, change your balance and riding plan, and navigate the best path. It requires intuition, observation, reflection, the ability to influence direction and the capability to adapt to new conditions.
Leadership and organisational flexibility, agility, and innovation are a key focus in organisations today, and with good reason. In the 2010 IBM CEO study, which is based on the interviews of over 1,500 CEO’s worldwide, two new themes emerged. The first was managing complexity and the second developing the creative capacity in the organisation to innovate in response to the shifting marketplace demands—in a world of escalating complexity. 1
Today’s leaders are facing rapidly accelerating rates of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA). We face an accelerating digital revolution, changing customer needs, complex global markets and a changing political overlay. Our current environment requires a constant state of innovation and the agility
For organisations to continue to grow and succeed, next generation leaders must be able to handle any change thrown their way. Leading through this new business environment requires the capability to sense and respond to changes in the business environment with actions that are focused, fast and flexible. Next generation leaders must be agile.
To lead for the next generation you must be able to move, change and evolve your teams. You need to be a creative thinker, with a deep sense of purpose and a passion for your organisations role. You must have an ability to assess the business landscape, move quickly into action, make decisions and implement with courage. Agile leaders must be able to engage diverse stakeholders, simultaneously influencing them and understanding them.
Having agile leaders on your team makes you competitive. These individuals are focused, confident and driven to lead. While they may be hard to come by, taking the time to seek them out is worth your while. 2
Flexibility, agility, and innovation are qualities most leaders and organisations want to acquire or amplify. These skills must be included in our standard performance reviews and must be part of the coaching and development process. The development of emerging leaders will need to include coaching, training and monitoring of their adaptability, their intuition and their self-reflection.
To be agile, organisation must also be good risk managers, capable of identifying key risks and implementing mitigation. That does not mean being risk averse. Complexity leads in many organisations to rigidity – target fixation on the problems, the complexity and the ambiguity. In motorcycle riding, target fixation is a significant risk – and a guaranteed way to end your journey.
When a leader or an organisational culture is defined by compliance, rapid innovation is simply not possible. We see this in large Government departments. Over-emphasis on compliance results in conservative strategy, excessive caution, bureaucratic thinking, and a lack of trust. It is not an environment for agility or innovation. The same can be said for micro managing leaders and cultures. The more over-controlling a culture is, the less open, flexible, agile, and innovative the organisation becomes.
It is more than just the leaders and their teams. To achieve real innovation, leaders must develop flexible and agile organisational systems—systems that can adapt quickly to rapidly developing trends and changing market conditions. The agility of an organisation is primarily a function of organisational design. You might have agile leaders, but if the business systems and organisational structure is rigid, reactive and bureaucratic, you are setting them an impossible task (and are likely to lose the best ones in the process!)
So what can you do to be an agile leader and create an agile organisation?
Let me link this back to The About my Brain Institute’s 3 - Silvia Damiano’s ‘Four pillars of Agility’ are:
Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.
Let me add my own recommendations:
Welcome uncertainty, as it makes your life more interesting.
1. Flexibility, Agility, Innovation (Part 1) By Douglas Day September 1, 2011
2. Agility: The Ingredient That Will Define Next Generation Leadership. Brian McGowan Forbes June 12 2012
3. Silvia Damiano; ‘Leadership is upside down - The i4 Neuroleader Revolution’; March 2017
Kim Ellis is the Executive Director of Sydney Botanic Gardens & Centennial Parklands (Australia), responsible for the management of 1,100 hectares of botanical gardens, public parklands and world heritage bushland. These sites host over 30 million visits a year, and operate with a budget of AUD100 million, of which more than 70% is self-funded through commercial operations. Kim has extensive experience in leading diverse, high profile public organisations, including significant public and private airports. He has worked throughout Australia and in the USA, and has spent time in the Australian Antarctic, supporting science operations.