When we talk about ‘Command and Control’ leadership models, we often use examples derived from the military. We envisage a small number of Generals defining objectives, creating strategies and then handing down unquestioned orders through the ‘chain of command’ to mobilise thousands of frontline combatants to (hopefully) effect the desired outcome.

The irony is that our cliché for outmoded, slow and cumbersome leadership is misplaced. The most valuable and perhaps effective elements of the modern military are their special forces. They consist of small units of as few as 5 highly trained, cross-functional experts. Typically they do not include an officer.

Whilst there is always a ranking structure in place, SF units are more respectful of individual expertise (e.g. explosives, medical, sniper). They are set an objective by the chain of command and then left to devise their own plan to affect it.

As they execute it (sometimes literally!) they will make on-the-ground decisions to adapt and evolve as circumstances and resources change. They represent the highest form of the agile team.

The Rise Of The Team

The Deloitte 2016 Global Human Capital Trends report is based on inputs of over 7,000 executives in 130 countries. It finds that many companies increasingly view the development of cross-disciplinary teams as the answer to the challenges of our fast-changing business world.

In a 2016 article the Economist suggested that:

The fashion for teams is driven by a sense that the old way of organising people is too rigid for both the modern marketplace and the expectations of employees. Technological innovation puts a premium on agility.

As most businesses are either in the technology space or racing to re-invent themselves as digital organisations, developing the agility of our people has never been more critical.

Re-thinking Agility

Agility is nothing new of course. We’ve been banging out about its importance for years. We want our people to ‘be agile’. We have agile methodology, agile scrum and agile project management – all approaches to keep us on track and moving forward. These all have merits, but don’t begin to address the fundamental shift we need.

To succeed in a business environment where product lifecycles now last months rather then years, developing high levels of agility in our people becomes a source of extraordinary differentiation and competitive advantage.

The early bird still catches the worm! Quite simply, a highly agile team will get more of the right stuff done more quickly. Its members see opportunities, create plans and gather the resources to deliver them. They are also able to adapt, re-plan and re-prioritise as new realities arise.

Developing true agility:

  1. Increases profitability and growth rate of profitability
  2. Reduces costs
  3. Shortens product development time
  4. Increases the speed of satisfying customers
  5. As a result increases customer satisfaction/loyalty and enhance brand value

Developing Agility In Our people

The Special Forces teams we mentioned do not just happen. The nature of their work is of course different, but many of the principals of agility they demonstrate are very relevant to our business world. Like them, we need to work at it. We need to give our employees the skills to develop their agility.

Agility is one of the four key competencies in the i4 Neuroleader Model developed by Silvia Damiano, founder of the About my Brain Institute. The other three competencies are Collaboration, Innovation and Performance.

The i4 Model is a personal leadership and well-being framework, which has been designed to provide a roadmap for leaders to develop the abilities needed to navigate a VUCA world.

How We Define Agility

Agility is the capacity to read changing conditions in our environment and the ability to rapidly adjust to them.

Supported by neuroscience, the i4 Model deconstructs Agility into 4 constituent parts (or what we call ‘Pillars’) - these are: Intuition, Awareness, Influence and Adaptability.

Understanding and adjusting our abilities, traits, attitudes and behaviours in each of these pillars helps us to better understand and improve our Agility. Each of these pillars are explored below. We have also pointed you to related articles!


This refers to the ability to know something without the involvement of conscious reasoning. It’s generated through mindsets and behaviours such as:

  • Intuitive insights,
  • Decision-making and
  • Sense of knowing

In a business context, we need to learn to connect with and ‘listen to’ our gut. Intuitive leaders are good at recognising patterns and anticipating trends. Intuition is not mumbo jumbo. It is a proven ability that can be developed and fine-tuned. It will often give us the best answer quickly, which may subsequently be backed up by data.

In the VUCA world, we often can’t afford the time and resource cost of waiting. We need to act early and decisively. We need to become attuned to and trust our intuition.

Read more about Intuition!


This refers to the ability to perceive and become conscious of our inner world, whilst remaining attuned to our external environment. Key elements are:

  • Mindfulness
  • Openness to feedback and
  • Peripheral vision

Developing mindfulness can significantly influence the way we respond to others. New developments in the area of neuro-feedback have proven that real-time feedback helps the brain to optimise its functioning. Framed properly, we enhance our self-understanding and also how others experience us.

As non-verbal language makes up over 80% of communication, there is a lot of additional available information that we often miss. We can train ourselves to be more observant and to see beyond what most people see.

Read more about Awareness!


This is about our capacity to have an effect on other people or situations. It involves adopting approaches and behaviours such as:

  • Personal power
  • Clear priorities and
  • Respect

We must develop our personal power to be able to give and receive ideas, whether we are in a formal position of power or the new guy. Ideas can come from anywhere and we need to shift traditional thinking to embrace that. In the muddle of fast change, competing ideas and shifting priorities, we need to be clear and to ensure the right people are working on the right things.

Underpinning all of this, agile teams most demonstrate mutual respect. It’s often the first victim of ‘busy’, but agility depends on it. If we reflect again on the Special Forces model, mutual respect is in-built (partially by the very high barriers to entry of making the grade as a Special Forces soldier). Much more than just valuing good manners, these teams understand that respect is foundational to success.

Read more about Awareness!


This is about our ability to adjust effectively to changes in all areas of our environment. Elements include:

  • Versatility
  • Dealing with uncertainty and
  • Self-correction

Knowing that our brains can shift, adapt and think differently helps to give us confidence that we can lead people through their (and our own) natural resistance to change. Uncertainty can be literally mind-numbing.

Understanding our brain’s natural reactions to uncertainty in flight, freeze and fight responses can help us to combat them and adapt. This and the ability to self-correct, based on our own reflections and instincts and the feedback of others, is an important shift towards us becoming a more effective leader and influencer.

Read more about Adaptability!

Putting Agility Into Action

All of the elements behind agility are teachable and attainable for almost anyone in your business. Building this CAPABILTY in your people and teams is far more valuable than developing individual skills. It’s teaching them to fish!

In my experience, few businesses ‘get’ this. Unlocking the agility in your teams is a great way to drive performance and create a culture that excites. Opportunity awaits and, as the Special Forces teams know too well, ‘who dares wins’.

Originally posted on: 4 May 2016
Last updated on: 25 May 2024
Mark Hodgson

Mark Hodgson

Mark Hodgson comes from an international corporate leadership background. He is one of our i4 Partners and runs his own leadership practise. A natural disruptor, he helps executives and consultants to position themselves as leading influencers. He also volunteers as a Telephone Crisis Support worker for Lifeline.

Mark is an Executive Coach, keynote Speaker and the Author. His first book is: ‘Time to Shine: Adapting who you are and what you know to succeed in the ideas economy’.

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