Agile Leadership Development in an AI World: Why You Still Need Living, Breathing Learning Professionals

Or Eight Ways GenAI Can (and Cannot) Enhance Your Leadership Development Strategies 

Generative AI (GenAI) has revolutionized everything from customer service to software development. Referring to platforms, apps, and other new tech that can generate images, text, and even write code, GenAI enables businesses to be nimbler, more responsive, and offer greater customized solutions than ever.

Slowing Down to Go Fast in the World of AI

Before you start downsizing your learning and development team or abandoning your mentoring and coaching programs, this article will help you slow down and assess the value and limitations of GenAI strategies for learning and leadership development.

One of my favorite questions to ask the leaders I have worked with over the last twenty-plus years is, “Think of an experience that changed you in a significant way.”

In response to this prompt, I have heard stories that include a leader who received the challenging feedback they needed to hear from a mentor at just the right time, a leader who gave a stagnating team member a new stretch assignment, a former professor who helped a CEO sort through a complex ethical dilemma, and a friend who was a sounding board in a way that helped her decide in a high-stakes situation with competing priorities.

Other emerging leaders have described being thrown into new situations where they discovered or developed a talent or capability they didn’t know they had or a breakthrough that emerged in a safe yet challenging learning environment. I have also witnessed leaders who were able to rise to the occasion and effectively respond to the unexpected and unplanned by connecting with a critical resource via a trusted partner who generously engaged their network.

These stories of impactful and transformative experiences share a common thread: they were relational, not transactional, just like leadership. Transformation and growth do not happen in a vacuum; they occur over time, through iterations of experimentation and feedback, and in relationship with colleagues, trusted advisors, and within the context and culture of their organizations and wider business ecosystem.

Technology cannot replace the relational interactions at the heart of leadership development and effectiveness.

If you work in learning and leadership development, I don’t have to remind you that:

  • Leadership is Relational, Not Transactional
  • Leadership Development is Iterative and Happens Over Time
  • Leadership Development is Contextual and Cultural

For example, in my work with leaders, we start from the premise that learning about Embodied Agile Leadership (EAL) is not the same as embodying agile leadership. Leadership development requires active engagement in what I call the Three C’s: Competence development, Confidence-building, and the Capacity to perform effectively in a wide range of unexpected and unplanned situations.

In the excitement over GenAI’s capabilities and benefits for learning and leadership development, we mustn’t lose sight of the role and value of human interactions at the heart of leadership growth and development. These same interactions and the trust and understanding they foster are also at the heart of how we make sense of complex situations, get things done, and ultimately generate and deliver value for customers and stakeholders.

Be Responsive, Not Reactive

It’s good news that technology will continue to evolve and become even better at recognizing patterns, analyzing data, and generating content. As learning leaders, we are responsible for evolving with the technology and guiding our colleagues and clients on GenAI’s value and limitations in supporting leadership impact and success.

Rather than react out of our initial excitement or existential fear, we can respond in a way that engages and partners with all available resources to support leaders’ success. With this in mind, here is my high-level overview of some ways learning leaders can tap generative AI and along with insights into ways your role as a living, breathing, relational human being is more important than ever. I began this reflection by asking ChatGPT: How Can Generative AI Enhance Agile Leadership Development?

What follows are eight headlines inspired by the AI-generated list, along with my human-generated response, inspired by several conversations with learning colleagues and clients about the role that learning leaders, including peers, mentors, coaches, and learning and development professionals, can and must play to ensure leadership success, particularly in a fast-paced, uncertain present and for a dynamic future:

Eight Ways Gen AI Can (and Cannot) Enhance Your Leadership Development Strategies

  1. Creation of Personalized Learning Plans
  • GenAI can analyze individual leadership styles, strengths, and areas for improvement based on performance data.
  • It can also generate personalized learning plans that cater to each leader’s specific needs and preferences, ensuring a more targeted and effective development journey.

Living Learning Professionals and Partners: can understand the nuance and complexity of each leader’s role and current context in a way that data analytics simply cannot. Ideally, leaders partner with a coach or mentor who can serve as a sounding board and guide to interpret assessment results and collaborate to refine AI-generated learning plans. This way, the leader has a learning and action plan relevant to their current context and business goals. Additionally, they have a human being with whom they can interact to brainstorm, troubleshoot, and reflect on their progress with accountability. Leaders seeking to develop leadership agility need a trusted partner to help them stretch and adapt as conditions change.

  1. Simulation and Scenario Training
  • Through generative AI, realistic leadership scenarios can be simulated, providing leaders with a safe environment to practice decision-making and problem-solving.
  • Leaders can engage in virtual scenarios that mimic real-world challenges, helping them develop agile thinking and decision-making skills.

Living Learning Professionals and Partners can help refine and maximize the value of scenario-based training, which can be highly effective in assisting leaders in building their confidence in VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) situations. To make the most of these experiences, leaders can partner with a coach, mentor, or peer to refine their agile leadership development goals before the learning experience. After participating in the scenario, leaders can partner again to reflect on their experience, including what they did well and areas for improvement. Leaving this to AI removes an important aspect of leadership development critical to building competence and confidence. Learning professionals and trusted peers can also help leaders make connections between their scenario-based learning and the high stakes of their current reality, resulting in actionable insights.

  1. Continuous Feedback and Coaching
  • GenAI can offer real-time feedback on leadership behaviors, communication styles, and decision-making processes.
  • Automated coaching systems can provide constructive insights and suggestions for improvement, enabling leaders to iterate and adapt their approach in real time.

Living Learning Professionals and Partners are critical in understanding the complexity of the leaders’ current context and adapting any AI-generated suggestions. A learning partner can also be a sounding board to help leaders prioritize actions that will make the best use of available resources and deliver the greatest value to their stakeholders. Learning leaders can grasp the subtleties of organizational culture, industry-specific challenges, and individual nuances that are challenging for AI to comprehend fully. They can also suggest more learning and development resources based on their in-depth knowledge of the organization and industry. Trust is crucial in leadership development, and the human element plays a significant role in establishing and maintaining it.

Coaches can build this trust with leaders, creating a supportive and confidential space for discussions.

  1. Data-Driven Decision Making
  • GenAI can identify trends, patterns, and correlations related to leadership effectiveness by analyzing large datasets.
  • Leaders can leverage these insights for data-driven decision-making, enhancing their ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

Living Learning Professionals and Partners help leaders make sense of data analytics within the organizational context and culture and can support ethical decision-making. In a fast-paced environment, starting with AI-generated suggestions based on large-scale industry trends or other benchmarks can be helpful. These suggestions, however, are only a starting point. As leaders engage with these suggestions, they must prioritize growth strategies based on their current capacity, available resources, and most pressing goals and accountabilities. In partnership with a peer, mentor, or coach, this process is an opportunity to increase self-awareness and identify biases and blind spots in the decision-making process. Relational decision-making also fosters accountability, the formation of trusting relationships to draw on to make sense of complex situations and competing priorities, and the reduction of uncertainty.

  1. Adaptive Leadership Development Programs
  • GenAI can continuously assess leaders’ progress and adapt the development program based on their evolving needs and the changing business environment.
  • This adaptability ensures that leadership development remains relevant and aligned with the organization’s goals and challenges.

Living Learning Professionals and Partners can help foster the learning agility at the core of sustained leadership agility. GenAI platforms can learn your leaders’ priorities and refine and adapt their suggestions and guidance. However, trusted learning partners with a deep understanding and relational ties across your organization and business ecosystem are best positioned to help leaders identify and engage their networks to identify the stretch opportunities best suited to develop learning agility.

  1. Natural Language Processing for Communication Enhancement
  • GenAI, particularly using natural language processing, can assist leaders in improving their communication skills.
  • It can analyze written and spoken communication, offering suggestions for clearer and more effective messaging and fostering better collaboration within agile teams.

Living Learning Professionals and Partners know that only humans who have lived the experiences and have gained their wisdom through mileage can inspire through authentic personal stories. They are also adept at weaving their unique narratives into one-on-ones and coaching sessions to create genuine connections and foster trust. Situationally, they can also understand and respond to the complexity of human interaction and nuances in tone, body language, and emotion that are essential for effective communication. By incorporating authenticity and personal stories, learning professionals and partners create a safe space for individuals to explore their communication styles, address challenges, and develop strategies for more impactful interactions. This human touch adds another layer of empathy and understanding to foster meaningful communication and build strong, collaborative relationships.

  1. Predictive Analytics for Leadership Success
  • Generative AI can use predictive analytics to identify potential leadership success factors and areas of improvement.
  • AI can analyze historical leadership data and success metrics to provide insights into the traits and behaviors contributing to effective leadership in an agile environment.

Living Learning Professionals and Partners can ensure that AI-generated prescriptive approaches and assessment results are held lightly. The best AI metrics can do is describe various behaviors that correlate with a range of outcomes. It is important to remember that these benchmarks do not necessarily prescribe one-size-fits-all solutions for any single leader or the complexities and competing priorities of their context and accountabilities. For this, leaders need a trusted thinking partner, coach, or mentor who can serve as a sounding board.

  1. Customized Content Creation
  • GenAI can automate and customize the creation of learning materials, generating content such as quizzes, case studies, and simulations.
  • This accelerates the content creation, ensuring a constant supply of fresh and relevant materials.

Living Learning Professionals and Partners understand the difference between providing content that helps leaders learn about something and developing the Competence, Confidence, and Capacity to draw on new learning in high-stakes and complex business environments. To develop these Three C’s, leaders need humans adept at facilitating group discussions, fostering collaboration, and managing group dynamics. Live experts can create a safe and interactive learning environment, encouraging open communication and collaboration among leaders. In addition, agile leadership development often requires real-time adjustments to learning strategies and interventions. Learning professionals can quickly adapt their real-time guidance in response to team dynamics, emerging situations, or learning opportunities. Live facilitators can also key into individual needs to inspire and motivate leaders, fostering a positive mindset and a commitment to continuous improvement. These interactions provide meaningful encouragement through shared stories, personal experiences, and role modeling, which even the most sophisticated AI platform is challenged to replicate authentically.

While AI can enhance many aspects of leadership development, combining AI resources and live learning experts creates a more holistic and effective approach. As you continue to evolve your leadership development strategies, the key is to engage technology for data-driven insights and efficiency while preserving the human touch for the complex interpersonal dynamics and individualized and critical context-specific elements of agile leadership development.

Link to the Original Article on LinkedIn

Spotlight on Leading and Learning with Agility: Chris Mikulski, Head of HR for H&M Americas

Chris Mikulski

Chris Mikulski, Head of HR for H&M Americas

In Staying in the Game: Leading and Learning with Agility for a Dynamic Future, I share the lessons I learned from some of the world’s most agile leaders across sectors. Based on this work, I introduced a new type of leadership, Embodied Agile Leadership. Embodied Agile Leaders (EALs) embody the values and practices of agile leadership and are attuned to their body as a source of agile learning feedback, energy, and resiliency.

In this spotlight, I shine a light on Chris Mikulski, a leader in an industry that depends on Embodied Agile Leaders at all levels to adapt and innovate in response to constant change. I also draw from a few brief excerpts from Staying in the Game while sharing some inspiring, actionable insights.

A key role EALs play in fostering engagement and agility is to create a workplace environment where everyone feels they can bring their whole self to work and are part of something meaningful and bigger than themselves. Belonging is the foundation of high performance.

Creating Space for Belonging

Few people understand the value of creating environments of acceptance and belonging in business more than Chris Mikulski, the Head of H.R. Americas for H&M Clothing. He has spent his entire work life in retail and shared that “some of the best times in my career were working in a store because of the diverse community you

“It’s really about the culture of a great workplace” —Chris Mikulski

become a part of.” When I asked Chris to tell me more about the value of creating such spaces in the rapidly changing and highly competitive fashion business, he shared,

[Community] gets you through the challenges and the hard times. And it impacts our ability to be competitive because we inspire each other to do better. We inspire each other to show up. If there’s a connection at the other end of your decision, I think you’re more likely to make that decision with that connection in mind. So whether it’s your favorite person who is closing the store tonight or somebody who you’ve built a bond with is working…you will be more inclined to make a decision that supports their success and to persevere past doubts or obstacles that we sometimes set for ourselves.

At times when companies have scrambled to fill jobs with talented, engaged people at all levels of the organization, H&M has leaned into its “Be Yourself & More”[1] recruiting and career development initiatives, which are more relevant than ever. Seventy-six percent of job seekers and employees reported that a diverse workforce is an important factor when evaluating companies and job offers.[2] Companies that truly value diversity don’t just stop at the head count; they ensure the heads count. Chris described how important this is to him personally and what it means well beyond “words on paper.”

I think naturally, as humans, we seek a sense of belonging in everything we do, even if it’s subconsciously. And I think [H&M] works really hard to build that for people. And even myself, being a proud gay man, being so accepted for that here is never questioned. I never have to have two different versions of myself. Even as a leader, that has unlocked my potential to a magnitude I could not have imagined. So that’s also why I believe so much in this sense of community, sense of belonging, and safety in those things. Because I’ve experienced it, and now I can use my platform to create that experience for others, whatever their unique self is.

EALs, such as Chris, understand that fostering Community requires consistent attention and participation. The business impact is significant because when people experience a true sense of belonging in which their Meaningful Identities are seen and valued, they tend to want to stick around. However, the dynamic of Community doesn’t happen by chance, as Chris emphasized.

It takes work and an ongoing commitment to that ideal because I think it’s easy to look at the world around you and sometimes feel out of lockstep with it. We feel very proud to be these pioneers. I think that’s why people want to stay. I’ve met many people who have been with H&M 10, 15, 20, even 30 years, and then go outside the United States, and it’s 30 or 40 years with H&M. It’s because they’re celebrated as themselves and they feel like they can really contribute authentically. And that’s an amazing feeling.

Commitment to creating space for belonging by EALs like Chris at companies like H&M is critical as the workforce continues to diversify. Chris shared more about what this looks like in action:

If you have blue hair, we want to know what color blue because we love it. If you choose to express yourself through artistic creations and tattoos on your skin, we love that. Whatever brings you joy, I think we seek to intersect with that, not to challenge it or go against it. We want to learn from each person. And I think that’s really the celebration of the multidimensional beings that we all are.

Actively valuing each other’s presence and participation in Community directly inspires everyone to stay in the game. The promise of engagement aligned with purpose starts during the recruiting process. At H&M, the long-time commitment to sustainable fashion is an essential differentiator for customers and prospective employees alike. Chris shared, “If we can get you on the phone for your first interview, then you usually want to join our company because we are values-driven, taking our responsibilities and commitment to people and planet very seriously, pioneering the future of the fashion industry. These are great things that people want to be a part of.”

Embodying an Agile Mindset

The theme of agility and relevancy echoes across sectors led by EALs. For example, in the fashion industry, success depends on staying relevant to customers’ ever-changing tastes. In practice, this means leading with an agile mindset that, once again, values listening, learning, and adapting over planning and control. Chris shared how he and his team embody an agile mindset, “We never get too comfortable with our strategies. We’re agile and changing all the time, minute to minute. We set off on an idea, we test things, we measure outcomes, and when we see a big opportunity, we shift. We constantly shift.”

Staying relevant to constantly changing conditions and to customer and stakeholder needs is the specialty of EALs. They know that to stay in the game they must keep up with the changing rules, players, and emerging technology and trends.

It’s really about the culture of a great workplace” —Chris Mikulski

When Chris and I caught up more than a year and a half after our original interview, I was curious to hear what had changed. Since we first spoke, the pandemic was largely in the rearview mirror, the economy was rebounding, and jobs reports were healthy. At the same time, some companies and other institutions that have invested heavily in programs and initiatives that promote a diverse workforce and foster cultures of belonging were experiencing a backlash.

I shared with Chris that as an educator and consultant who moves through many of these organizations and is also LGBTQ, I have felt disheartened and even scared that we may be heading backward after so much progress. I was interested to hear how or if this outside pressure was affecting H&M’s approach to diversity and inclusion. Chris’s response gave me hope and lights a path for other organizations grappling with these issues. He began by telling me that he and his colleagues were paying close attention to what was happening in the external environment and at the same time, that it had not shaken H&M’s commitment to their work because:

The strategic steps we’ve taken these past couple of years specifically have been foundational moves. Our commitment goes beyond a celebration for a holiday or a particular event. It’s been in our culture. So now, when there are things like this happening, there are places for our people to go to discuss them and forums for us to utilize as a company to have discussions around these topics. In addition, we’ve been very overt about proactively sharing messages with our colleagues about what they may be seeing in the market and the media about this. Because we want them to know we’re in it forever, we’re really in it forever.

Chris’s response and the work being done by leaders at all levels of organizations like H&M remind us that, while trends may come and go, investing in an inclusive Community and the agility and resiliency it fosters will always stay in style.

[1] “Explore Careers in Fashion at H&M | H&M Careers United States.” H&M Careers United States, Accessed August 13, 2022, https://career. hm.com/us-en.

[2] “Glassdoor’s Diversity and Inclusion Workplace Survey.” Glassdoor Blog, last modified September 29, 2020, https://www.glassdoor.com/blog/glassdoors-diversity-and-inclusion-workplace-survey/.

Link to the original article on LinkedIn


Staying in the Game book coverREAD MORE ways Chris Mikulski and other Embodied Agile Leaders from across industries lead and learn with agility for a dynamic future in Staying in the Game.

AUTHOR PAMELA MEYER, Ph.D. works with leaders and teams who need to be agile and resilient and want to increase their impact for success.

 

 

 

 

 

Leading and Learning with Agility: Spotlight on Dr. Tiffany Dotson

Headshot of Dr. Tiffany Dotson

In Staying in the Game: Leading and Learning with Agility for a Dynamic Future, I share the lessons I learned from some of the world’s most agile leaders across sectors. Based on this work, I introduced a new type of leadership, Embodied Agile Leadership. Embodied Agile Leaders (EALs) embody the values and practices of agile leadership and are attuned to their body as a source of agile learning feedback, energy, and resiliency.

Dr. Tiffany Dotson is one of the EALs who has inspired me for over a decade. I have seen her up close as she sparked engagement in a small group of learning colleagues at a university-hosted professional development event and ignited innovative strategic approaches to global leadership in Fortune 500 companies.

In this spotlight, I draw from a few brief excerpts from Staying in the Game and share her latest insights to help you prepare to lead and learn with agility in 2024.


I first met the now Dr. Dotson at an event I facilitated for area learning professionals at DePaul University. She somehow made time for new learning and relationship-building while working at a major corporation in Chicago and finishing her doctorate at Columbia University, each more than a full-time endeavor.

Over the next few years, I stayed in touch with Dr. Dotson as she moved into leadership roles at Pfizer, JP Morgan Chase, and Liberty Mutual Insurance, where she is currently the Global Learning Officer. Dr. Dotson was aggressively recruited because of her reputation for developing innovative learning programs that deliver business results. In this role, she oversees learning and development for commercial insurance business acumen, culture transformation, and executive development. Dr. Dotson leads by embodying a relentless commitment to continuous learning.

Leading with Learning Agility

Leading in a large, complex, growing organization requires more than learning; it requires learning agility, or the ability to continuously learn, adapt, and perform effectively in unfamiliar situations. Studying the career arcs of executives across domains, researchers Robert W. Eichinger and Michael M. Lombardo found that learning agility was a better predictor of promotability and success after a promotion than other indicators, including IQ.[1] They found that those without learning agility, up to 70% of even those identified as having high potential, can be successful within their comfort zone but soon derail when thrown into new situations for which they have no prior experience. In contrast, learning agile leaders like Dr. Dotson have developed a Meaningful Identity, a purpose, and values that give their life and work meaning. They are intrinsically motivated to lead with ongoing curiosity, intentional learning, and adaptation.

During her formative years in Chicago, Dr. Dotson shared that she quickly discovered her values and value through experiences and contexts that validated her Meaningful Identity:

I experienced my power in front of a group as early as kindergarten, giving a speech in front of the room and later on in the debate team and cheerleading squad. I loved performing and the positive feedback I received. It felt good. And I had good grades, too. So, I had early evidence of my value.

Many leaders who generously shared their stories and insights with me for Staying in the Game trace their passion and purpose to their formative years. Whether or not they were aware of the impact at the time, as adults, they all embrace their early experiences as an essential part of their leadership narrative. Dr. Dotson’s purpose has been crystal clear ever since she can remember:

It’s been my mission in life: helping people think better to design their own lives as opposed to living by default. When I show up at a meeting and say to my staff, ‘Here’s what I’m learning,’ it puts them at ease and helps them get in the same mindset. Our goal isn’t perfection; it’s continuous learning and growth.

Image of Dr. Tiffany Dotson sitting on a couch wearing a pink jacket

“I’m not done; I’m not done learning. I want to keep getting better!”

Ask “What Are You Learning?”

When I checked in with Dr. Dotson toward the end of 2023, I asked her one of her favorite questions to ask her team, “What are you learning?” I wasn’t surprised that her response once again demonstrated her commitment to continuous learning and growth:

I’ve become fascinated with Adam Grant’s work—especially his idea of re-thinking. For me, it means, “I know what I know, but I’m not married to it.” In practice, I’m becoming much more intentional in my own learning. I’ll gather a team together who I can trust to poke holes in my work. For example, I no longer ask people for their “feedback” because it has such negative associations. I ask them for their insights. I’ve coached my team to the point where this is now the language of our world. My team asks for insights from me and each other and trusts each other to be honest, to hold up the mirror.

Developing a growth culture doesn’t happen overnight. Dr. Dotson shared how she embodies the learning values she espouses:

I have also found that I need to give people permission to tell me the truth. It does mean setting aside the ego. It’s wonderful to hear “you were awesome,” but I need news I can use. Tell me what I can do more of or less of. Give me direct, observable behavior. Even if it’s all positive, make it specific.

Dr. Dotson knows she is having an impact when she sees others sharing her commitment to growth through their behavior, “My boss emailed me recently after I gave a high-profile talk and said, “You were awesome! Call me at 3:30 pm and I’ll tell you specifically what was awesome.”

In increasingly dynamic environments, many leaders at all levels of organizations are developing or demonstrating their ability to lead and learn with agility. They are discovering what Dr. Dotson and other Embodied Agile Leaders have—that modeling continuous learning and improvement instills in their colleagues the confidence to perform at their best in all conditions.


[1] Robert W. Eichinger and Michael V. Lombardo, “Learning Agility as a Prime Indicator of Potential.” Human Resource Planning 27, no. 4 (December 1, 2004): 12, https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1G1-126653494/learning-agility-as-a-prime-indicator-of-potential.


READ MORE ways Dr. Tiffany Dotson and other Embodied Agile Leaders from across industries lead and learn with agility for a dynamic future in Staying in the Game.

Image of book cover for Staying in the Game

Ten ways to Lead and Learn with Agility in 2024

2024 image with fireworks

While 2024 still has that “new car” smell, it’s a great time to get energized for success in a fast-paced and dynamic business landscape. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach for any organization or leadership team, here are ten ideas worth exploring or leaning into to help you and your team members lead and learn with agility throughout the new year:

1. Embrace Continuous Learning

– Foster a culture of continuous learning within your team and organization.

– Encourage employees to seek new knowledge, stay updated on industry trends, and regularly engage in professional development opportunities. Create regular forums and spaces for colleagues to share their lessons learned, new insights, and resources.

2. Cultivate a Growth Mindset

– Foster an agile growth mindset among team members by modeling and reinforcing the value of reflecting on and learning from experience.

– Demonstrate a positive attitude toward experimentation and improvement.

3. Promote Cross-Functional Collaboration

– Encourage collaboration and knowledge-sharing between leaders and across different departments, functional areas, and teams.

– Foster a multidisciplinary approach to issue and opportunity-framing, leveraging diverse skills and perspectives.

4. Adopt or Learn the Best Practices of Agile Frameworks

– You don’t have to formally adopt agile methodologies to benefit from some of their best practices in your leadership approach and organizational processes.

– Learn how to use iterative and flexible methods to adapt to changing circumstances and priorities quickly.

5. Build Adaptive Leadership Skills

– Develop leadership skills adaptable to various situations, challenges, and opportunities.

– Focus on honing skills like emotional intelligence, critical thinking, and effective communication and collaboration in dynamic environments.

6. Leverage Technology for Learning

– Discover how emerging technologies like AI, VR, and AR can enhance learning experiences.

– Utilize online platforms and other tech-driven resources for efficient and interactive learning.

7. Encourage Experimentation

– Create a safe environment for experimentation and innovation.

– Support and celebrate initiatives that involve trying new approaches, even with the risk of failure.

8. Enable Flexible Work

– Align your team’s way of working with the value they deliver to your stakeholders rather than a ridged time and place for how work gets done. This may mean establishing parameters for remote work, flexible schedules, and leveraging technology to support effective communication and collaboration.

– Recognize the importance of work-life balance and integration in fostering agility.

9. Prioritize Well-being

– Recognize and prioritize the well-being of your team members. Check-in regularly to gauge engagement, satisfaction, and workload manageability.

– Provide resources and support for mental health and create a work environment that promotes a healthy work-life balance.

10. Use Data and Other Success Indicators for Informed Decision-Making

– Embrace data-driven decision-making processes. Be sure to include qualitative indicators when relevant.

– Leverage analytics and insights to inform your leadership decisions and adapt strategies based on real-time data.


 to tell us about your 2024 agile leadership development goals and learn how we can help you reach them.

Or get started on developing your leadership agility today and:

We look forward to supporting your agile leadership and team success in the coming year!

 

Do You Have an Agile Mindset?

Agile Mindset

Assess and Adapt Your Outlook to Thrive When Things Don’t Go As Planned

Whether you have been charged with helping your leaders, team or organization become more agile, are in the process of adopting agile methodologies, or simply recognize the need to be more effective in the midst of change, the starting place is the same: developing and reinforcing your agile mindset.

In previous posts and my book, The Agility Shift I have described this mindset as one that relies less on planning and more on preparing. This shift doesn’t mean that we need to throw planning out the window altogether, but that we recognize that in rapidly changing contexts we must approach our work with a readiness to learn and adapt.

The Agility Shift Book

For many of us, this represents a significant shift in perspective and mindset. Below are a few characteristics of this shift, along with a new resource for you to assess your current state of mind and begin your own agility shift:

An agile mindset welcomes discoveries.

An agile mindset welcomes new discoveries as an opportunity to improve and refine the work at hand rather than seeing them as a threat to anyone’s original idea, plan, value, identity, status, ego or any other barrier that can get in the way of innovation.

An agile mindset expects iteration.

Of course, iteration is at the heart of each sprint cycle in agile methodologies because developers of new software, products and services know that each iteration is an opportunity to test and learn. You don’t need to implement an agile methodology to understand the value of testing and learning. When you expect to iterate, you can hold your ideas and plans lightly, be open to new information, and fail, learn and innovate faster.

An agile mindset is responsive, not reactive.

You know the difference between being reactive and responsive if you have ever said or done something you later regretted. Reactivity is often guided by a knee-jerk impulse based on fear, defensiveness and the hard-wiring of our reptilian brain. Responsiveness can take place in the same amount of time, but includes a level of self-awareness and awareness of available resources, along with a rapid assessment of the situation and ability to prioritize effective action (or in some cases, inaction).

Most of us can’t honestly claim to have an agile mindset 100% of the time, especially under stress or in the midst of a high stakes challenge or opportunity. The stressed or anxious brain tends to revert to its familiar ways of thinking (at best) or go into full flight, freeze, or flight mode (at worst). Neither mode is particularly effective when innovation is our goal. The good news is that all of us can learn to make an agility shift to an agile mindset, even if it is not our first response.

The Agility Shift Book

An Agile Mindset Starts with Awareness.

The first step to making this agility shift is to become more aware of what you are experiencing when things don’t go as planned or when you discover new disruptive information.

The original Agility Shift Inventory (ASI) can help you with this first step: Awareness.

The ASI includes:

  • Survey questions designed to inventory your current agile mindset state
  • A Generative Conversation and Catalyst Guide with explanations and coaching questions to improve your mindset for effective action.
  • A chance to update your answers from the last time you took the inventory (remember, your results are highly contextual, so if your work setting/situation has changed since you last took it, your results will likely change as well).

For those ready to do a deeper dive, we recommend you start by registering for the newly launched Self-Guided Leadership Agility Development Journey, which gives you access to a more dynamic version of the ASI, the Agility Shift Inventory™ for Leaders, as well as a host of additional resources and lessons.

In this high-content, high-engagement program you will grow your leadership agility capability and start the new year with the ability to effectively respond to the unexpected and unplanned and quickly turn challenges into opportunities.

  • Learn how to lead with an agile mindset.
  • Grow your leadership agility competence, capacity, and confidence at your own pace, on your own time.
  • Take the new Agility Shift Inventory™ for Leaders and receive personalized recommendations based on your leadership agility strengths and areas of opportunity.
  • Discover new ways to engage and inspire team agility.

By registering you will enjoy a full year of access to your leadership agility development journey with content and resources designed to complement the best practices described in Pamela Meyer’s game-changing book, The Agility Shift.

Of course, if you are not ready for begin focus on your leadership agility just yet, you can still become familiar with the core concepts of agility by taking the original ASI here:

 

 

 

Agile 101 (Part 3 of 3): Developing and Sustaining Agile Leaders

Agile 101 (Part 3 of 3): Developing and Sustaining Agile Leaders

Developing and Sustaining Agile Leaders, Teams, and Organizations

In Part One [insert link] I shared the inspiration for this three-part series. In a nutshell, this series is for anyone whose organization has made agility a top strategic priority. This includes, but is not limited to, companies that are adopting agile methodologies at the team level, are starting to scale agile across the enterprise (see Part Two of this series), or have more broadly understood that business agility is critical to staying competitive in a rapidly changing world. This final post is for you if your organization fits any of these categories, and you want to assure that your investment in business agility delivers the results you seek.

“Where Should We Start?”

The question above is the first one leaders ask after committing to being more agile. Of course, before we can answer that question, we must agree on what are we talking about when we talk about agility?

Broadly, I describe agility as your ability to respond effectively to the unexpected and unplanned and quickly turn challenges into opportunities.

This is not a dictionary definition but a performance statement. The leaders I work with don’t need to know what agility looks like on paper; they need to know what it looks like in action.

The goal of any agile initiative is not agility itself, but sustained performance through both stable and volatile conditions.

To consistently achieve this level of performance, the organizations I have researched and work with consistently attend to each of the six dynamics of the Agility Shift. To fully understand each dynamic and how to bring it to life in your organization, I direct you to my book, The Agility Shift: Creating Agile Leaders, Teams and Organizations, as well as my website for additional resources. Below is a brief introduction to each of the dynamics:

Relational Web

Relational Web: The network of skills, knowledge, talent, and resources that you need to be able to tap at a moment’s notice when things don’t go as planned or a new opportunity emerges. 

Relevant: The ability to understand current trends, customer and workforce needs, and adapt to stay relevant to and competitive in the market. 

Responsive: The ability to respond in a timely and effective way to unexpected and unplanned challenges and opportunities.

Resilient: The ability to quickly regroup when things don’t go as planned.

Resourceful: The ability to make optimal and innovative use of available resources.

Reflective: The ability to learn the lessons from experience and thoughtfully apply those lessons to new and emerging situations. 

Agility and Agile methodologies are certainly not mutually exclusive. You don’t need to adopt a specific agile methodology to improve your leadership, team, or organizational agility. Yet, adopting an agile methodology without attending to the necessary mindset, culture, and practice shifts will not yield the hoped-for results, especially over the long haul.

Making the Mindset and Culture Shift So Agility Can Thrive

Now that we have a shared understanding of agility and the six dynamics necessary to sustain it, we must understand and make (and continue to make) the mindset and culture shift required to thrive in this radical (for many) new ways of working.

A recent joint global survey by Forbes Insights and the Scrum Alliance of 1,000 C-suite executives across industries that found 83% of respondents cite an agile mindset/flexibility as the most essential characteristic of today’s C-suite (2018).

At its core, an agile mindset and culture value learning and change over planning and control.

In my research of more than 1,500 leaders at all levels of business and industry, an agile mindset is tightly linked to two key aspects of agility: Responsiveness and Resourcefulness.

Responsive and Resourceful

In particular, the ability to quickly turn challenges into opportunities and look for opportunities in the midst of change are strongly connected to Agility Shift Inventory-takers’ ability to be responsive and resourceful. These mindset attributes also strongly differentiate the most agile from the least agile respondents in the Agility Shift Inventory

Reinforcing our research, when Nigel Davies at Forbes interviewed several leaders about the pitfalls of adopting agile, he also found that mindset was a common challenge.

For example, Christopher McFarlane, an agile project manager for Walmart Canada, shared with him, “instilling an agile mindset internally is one of the hardest things about the transition.” Successfully building an agile organization is also an endurance sport, says David Fort, managing director at Haines Watts Manchester, “Being an agile business isn’t a start-stop scenario, it’s a constant shift in culture and balance that has to be regularly revisited. If you stop running as an agile business, you’re likely to seize up. The real challenge is ensuring the agility is fresh, and the team members are focused on being agile.” (Davies, 2019)

Adding urgency to the need to attend to the leadership mindset is that many organizations are not yet seeing the expected returns of their formidable investments in agility because leaders underestimated the mindset and cultural shift that would be required for a successful transformation.

Mindset and culture are directly linked. Mindset influences thinking; thinking influences our actions; culture is created through repeated patterns of thinking and acting.

Version One’s survey of 1,319 leaders in organizations ranging from less than 1,000 employees to greater than 20,000 found that the top challenge in a successful agile transformation is that their current culture is at odds with the degree of communication, collaboration, self-organization and continuous learning that is at the heart of agile practices. Coming in a close second is an overarching organizational resistance to change (13th Annual State of Agile Report, 2018).

There is good news, however. The Forbes Insights and the Scrum Alliance report cited earlier also found that those organizations that were realizing results from their adoption of agile practices also reported strong cultural alignment, while those that were not yet seeing a return cited organizational culture as the impediment (2018). Leaders have a significant influence over the success or failure of agile initiatives as they set the tone, model, and reinforce the underlying beliefs, values, and behaviors that make up their organizational cultures. 

This growing body of evidence all points in the same direction: any organization that makes agility a top strategic priority, must also prioritize learning and talent development strategies that support the critical mindset and behavioral shifts necessary to achieve the results of these investments.  

Our work in recent years with companies like T-Mobile (see case story and webinar) demonstrates the power of engaging leaders across the enterprise in high-content, high engagement learning, and development experiences and has yielded exciting results. In addition to high net-promoter scores, showing initial enthusiasm, a rigorous analysis of how learning is being applied across the organization is demonstrating significant business value. If an organization like T-Mobile, operating in an extremely competitive environment and through years-long uncertainty of a possible merger can sustain results, your organization can, too. 

Supporting Your Organization’s Agility Shift Through Learning and Talent Development

Just like reaching your health and fitness goals, developing and sustaining business agility, is not a one-time endeavor but a commitment to a new way of life. Fitness experts have found that the secret to sustained success is consistency and variety. The same is true for your organization’s leadership, team, and organizational agility.

Making the Agility Shift

Making the Agility Shift

Attaining a consistent practice for agility requires an approach that includes enough variety to keep your workforce stretching and growing. The strategies we have found most impactful put the mindset shift in the center and build the Three Cs of The Agility Shift: Competence, Capacity, and Confidence. Consistent and innovative learning and development approaches in each of these areas reinforce a culture in which agile thinking and behavior can thrive.

 

Scalable Talent Development Approaches for Agile Leaders, Teams, and Organizations

One of the challenges in supporting organization-wide agility initiatives is providing meaningful and impactful learning opportunities across the enterprise. Whether led by your in-house training team or outside contractors, you are likely constrained by budget, available time (both training professionals’ and employees’ available time), as well as personnel.

We use several highly adaptable strategies to help our clients overcome these barriers:

  • Human Resource Strategies: To ensure an integrated approach across the organization, we often work with HR and Talent Development leaders. Aligning staffing, talent development, performance appraisal, and coaching with agile organizational goals helps assure that you are building a workplace culture in which agility can thrive. 
  • Train-the-Trainer: We work with in-house learning and development professionals to train and certify them in customizable modules that they can then use to lead sessions for leaders at all levels of the organization. We provide an Agility Shift Facilitator Guide and participant materials. This approach offers the most flexible and comprehensive approach for building and sustaining an agile workforce.
  • Agility Champion Training: In this immersive training session, we help designated Agility Champions throughout the organization learn the foundational concepts and best practices of team and leadership agility, while building their competence, capacity and confidence as an agility resource person, coach and activity facilitator. Agility Champions are also trained on and given access to a series of micro-learning resources and Take it to Your Team activities they can use to support continuous leadership and team development. 
  • Agility Lab Micro-learning Resources: Many managers and agile team leaders like to integrate our range of micro-learning resources and guided activities to support team engagement, innovation, and performance. These resources can be used one-on-one or to kick-off a meeting, planning session or integrated into a retrospective.
  • Agility Assessment: Often, the biggest challenge in making the Agility Shift is the mindset shift and understanding how that mindset shift translates into new habits in each of the six dynamics of the agility shift. The Agility Shift Inventory (ASI) helps individuals and teams discover where their greatest strengths and opportunities lie and so that they invest their time and resources for maximum impact.
  • Coaching: Because agile ways of thinking and working represent a significant shift for most leaders and team members, we provide individualized coaching to help contributors make their own agility shift so they can ensure their teams and the organization realize results from their agile initiatives.
  • Leadership Development: An agile leader is anyone who spots a challenge or opportunity and effectively responds. Now more than ever, organizations need agile leaders at all levels of the business who can lead effectively in the midst of rapid change and uncertainty. Your current and emerging leaders need to be able to consistently model and inspire others to make the Agility Shift.
  • Team Development: Agile organizations are team-centric and increasingly networked. The best investment you can make is in team success, whether or not you are adopting agile methodologies, teams need to be able to effectively innovate and adapt, as well as communicate, collaborate and coordinate resources. We help teams build their agility competence through high-content, high-engagement development days that integrate reflection and action planning based on the results of their Team Agility Shift Inventory.
  • Customized Solutions: There is no one-size-fits-all solution for any organization. Your business priorities, leadership commitment, environment, and available resources all dictate which strategy is best for you. We work with organizations to determine the approach that will be most effective and sustainable to improve performance.

When You Should Consider an Agile Learning and Talent Development Approach

The good news is that building your organization’s overall competence, capacity, and confidence in agility is compatible with overall organizational agility objectives and each of the agile methodologies and agile transformation approaches described in this blog series. Not only is it compatible, but it is essential that you provide engaging and motivating development opportunities and help your leaders and teams make and sustain the necessary mindset and practical shift required to deliver results. Because we, as humans, are hard-wired to scan our environments for threats (read changes and disruptions) and avoid or resist them at all costs, we need new and continuous practices to help us make the intentional shifts to help us maximize each new disruption and opportunity. Whichever approach you choose, you need to have a strategy that helps your human system of interactions engage with and deliver the positive benefits and outcomes of your agility shift.


Which learning and development approach is right for you?

SCHEDULE TIME WITH PAMELA MEYER TO FIND OUT

 


Pamela Meyer, Ph.D. is the author of The Agility Shift: Creating Agile and Effective Leaders, Teams and Organizations. She is a sought-after keynote speaker and works with leaders and teams across industries who need innovative learning and talent development strategies to make the mindset and business shift to compete in a rapidly changing marketplace.

Additional References

13th Annual State of Agile Report. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.stateofagile.com/

Davies, N. (2019). Agile Deserves The Hype, But It Can Also Fail: How To Avoid The Pitfalls. Forbes. Retrieved from Forbes website: https://www.forbes.com/sites/nigeldavies/2019/07/02/agile-deserves-the-hype-but-it-can-also-fail-how-to-avoid-the-pitfalls/#c9ced757a0cf

How Agile and DevOps enable digital readiness and transformation. (2018). Hampshire, UK: Freeform Dynamics.

The Elusive Agile Enterprise: How the Right Leadership Mindset, Workforce and Culture Can Transform Your Organization. Jersey City, NJ: Forbes Insights and the Scrum Alliance (2018). Retrieved from: https://www.scrumalliance.org/ScrumRedesignDEVSite/media/Forbes-Media/ScrumAlliance_REPORT_FINAL-WEB.pdf

Schwartz, J., Collins, L., Stockton, H., Wagner, D., & Walsh, B. (2017). Rewriting the Rules for the Digital Age: 2017 Deloitte Human Capital Trends. Retrieved from: https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/global/Documents/HumanCapital/hc-2017-global-human-capital-trends-gx.pdf

 

 

Leading Through Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity (VUCA)

Leading Through VUCA

Leading Through Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity (VUCA)

Over the past few months, a number of companies have asked me to help their leaders lead in the midst of VUCA.  These organizations include a US-based company that is preparing for a possible, but not certain, merger and needs to continue to serve its customers, grow and innovate as it awaits approval. A European pharmaceutical company that is reorganizing to be even more responsive to the marketplace. A global financial services company that is adopting new technologies and leveraging AI to meet its increasingly tech-savvy customers’ expectations.

Most likely you are familiar with the acronym that stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity and was first used by the US Army War College to describe the contemporary battlefield. Today VUCA is widely used in the changing landscape of business.

 

For each of these above scenarios and many more, business success depends on the ability to compete in a rapidly changing climate.

The Agility Shift starts with expanding our understanding of what it means to be a leader.

 

Everybody is a Leader in a VUCA Environment

When things are changing rapidly, there is no time to run every challenge or opportunity up through the chain of command.

As I define in The Agility Shift, “an agile leader is anyone who spots a challenge or opportunity and effectively responds”. This definition expands the understanding of leadership from the command and control model of yesterday to one focused on communication, collaboration and coordination. No longer is leadership designated by your job title, compensation package or place in the org chart. In VUCA environments, everyone is a leader. Everyone must be empowered to act to serve the customer and the needs of the business.

 

Which Aspect of VUCA Do You Prioritize?

To understand the leadership implications of VUCA, you need to identify which of the four characteristics are most relevant to your current situation. The matrix below, first proposed by Bennet and Lemoine (2014) may help begin to identify your leadership priorities:

Leading through VUCA

VUCA Examples

Ambiguity

  • Moving into a new market
  • Launching a new product, creating a new strategic alliance
  • Expanding beyond your core competencies
  • Big leadership or organizational changes

Complexity

  • Doing business in global markets
  • Multiple stakeholders with competing or shifting  priorities
  • Multiple brands, products, supply chains, distribution channels

Uncertainty

  • Competition is launching a new product/service and the impact on the market not known
  • Merger/Acquisition MAY be on the horizon
  • Proposed legislation/regulations MAY be adopted.

Volatility

  • Natural disaster
  • Supply chain disruption
  • Labor dispute
  • Technology breach
  • Geopolitical instability
  • PR/Ethics Scandal

Of course, each of the four characteristics of VUCA rarely happens in isolation. For example, you might be experiencing volatility and complexity at the same time (A sudden change in leadership at the same time as your competitor launches a new product).

Think about which of these examples and characteristics, or VUCA combinations, best describes the eco-system in which you do business.

Which VUCA characteristics are most relevant to the challenges and opportunities you are confronting in your organization? Department? Your role as a leader?

Make Shift Happen

Now that you have identified the characteristics of VUCA that are most relevant to your current situation and before you start thinking about specific strategies and tactics to be effective, it is time to make the mindset shift to ensure you are setting yourself up for success.

 

Mindset Shift: From Planning to Preparing

In stable contexts, we can rely on the tried and true practices of planning and analysis. When the future, not to mention the present, is uncertain and unpredictable, we must make a mindset shift toward preparing and enter a state of readiness.

Just as improv performers, athletes, and SWAT teams train and prepare for various high-stakes, high-stress scenarios, you can expand your capability and capacity to be effective when things don’t go as planned.

The best practices below fall into two key and interdependent categories: 1) People and talent development strategies and 2) Systems and processes. They are interdependent because you can have the best systems and processes in the world and if you have not developed your people to make the necessary mindset and skillset shift, you will be disappointed in their performance when it counts most.

Leading Through VUCA Best Practices

As you read the following best practices for leading through VUCA, pay particular attention to those that are within your span of control or influence.

Volatility

Characterized by an unpredictable, unstable situation, though not necessarily complicated. Information is available as events unfold.

  • Train for role elasticity and develop “generalizing specialists.”
  • Improve decision-speed
  • Build redundancy into your system and build slack into the supply chain
  • Leverage technology and alternative strategies to ensure continuous communication
  • Regularly train for various disruptions, and ID needed skills, knowledge, and talent
  • Tap your hi-potentials for temporary assignments

Uncertainty

Characterized by a lack of key actionable information, such as timing, duration, cause and effect.

  • Tap your Relational Web to:
    • Reduce uncertainty
    • Gather additional information and insight, including customer data, market analytics
    • Improve access to market insights via resources like slack and yammer
    • Reflect on and share experiences of successfully working through uncertainty
  • Identify the givens of the current situation and focus on what is within your span of control
  • Provide or seek career-pathing and “stay interviews” so you can identify people’s interests and strengths to keep them engaged
  • Implement agile performance appraisals and regularly provide feedback and acknowledge agile success

Complexity

Characterized by an overwhelming amount of information, interconnected or moving parts and relationships.

  • Improve communication, collaboration and coordination
  • Clarify decision-rights
  • Adapt organizational structure and expertise to match the complexity of the context
  • Identify people who have strengths and experience in dealing with complexity
  • Recruit and develop people who can thrive in complexity (See The Agility Shift, chapters 8-9).

Ambiguity

Characterized by a lack of information and precedent, making the ability to predict the impact of actions a challenge.

  • Create (some) clarity
  • Make space for interactions
  • Re-engage and recommit to your purpose
  • Understand and prioritize user needs
  • Focus on your MVP (Minimal Viable Product)
  • Practice rapid prototyping to fail faster and learn quicker
  • Experiment and pilot to discover what you don’t know
  • Make time to learn the lessons from experience and carry them forward

These ideas are not intended as a prescription for the issues and opportunities that are most pressing for you and your fellow agile leaders. They will help get the conversation started and lead to thoughtful strategic and tactical approaches that build your competence, capacity, and confidence to effectively lead through VUCA.


ANNOUNCING THE SELF-GUIDED LEADERSHIP AGILITY DEVELOPMENT JOURNEY!

Relational Web

Created in response to overwhelming demand, you can now start your Leadership Agility Development Journey anytime, anywhere, and at your own pace.

  • Grow your leadership agility competence, capacity, and confidence at your own pace, on your own time.
  • Enjoy high-engagement, high-content micro-learning segments with lessons you can immediately apply.
  • Take the new Agility Shift Inventory™ for Leaders and receive personalized recommendations based on your leadership agility strengths and areas of opportunity.
  • Learn how to improve the value you deliver with improved agility.
  • Discover new ideas to take to your team to inspire team agility.

By registering you will enjoy unlimited access for a full year to content designed to complement the best practices described in Pamela Meyer’s game-changing book, The Agility Shift.


Pamela Meyer, Ph.D. is the author of The Agility Shift: Creating Agile and Effective Leaders, Teams and Organizations. She is a sought-after keynote speaker and works with leaders and teams across industries who need innovative learning and talent development strategies to make the mindset and business shift to compete in a rapidly changing marketplace.


Bennett, J. and Lemoine, G., (2014) What VUCA Really Means for You, Harvard Business Review, January-February Issue.