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Strategic leaders need to be agile yet consistent

Agile yet consistent strategic leadership

Today’s global and highly competitive economy requires the strategic leaders to be agile yet consistent …. is there a conflict ?

Agile yet consistent leadership

At first glance the typical 2×2 matrices in business strategy may depict a conflict, agile yet consistent. Leaders must resolve the tensions between competing values and traits and must carefully monitor their own strengths so those strengths don’t lapse into weaknesses. At the core strategic leadership is about “asking the right question”. Leaders must hold two specific elements in balance: consistency and agility to be more strategic, able to effectively execute the business while remaining open to trends in the global marketplace and adapting as needed.

Consistent leaders:

One of the traits all best performers have is consistency. Leaders who are consistent set goals for themselves and their employees and they achieve them. Diligent planning, ability to produce results and a differentiated experience for customers are some of their highlights. These leaders are also diligent and possess resilience and grit. Customers expect consistent products; people appreciate consistent management.

But if organizational leaders are merely consistent, they risk rigidity. In today’s globally competitive marketplace, they can struggle to adapt and may embrace old habits and practices until those practices become counterproductive, resulting in head winds for their efforts to make the necessary changes in a timely manner.

Agile leaders:

On the other hand, great leaders demonstrate agility. Today’s ever changing and demanding markets require that organizations and people adapt and change constantly. By one analysis, 88% of companies appearing on the Fortune 500 list in 1955 were not on it in 2014 (having merged, gone bankrupt, or fallen off the list). As we know, buggy whip makers and telegraph companies must evolve or die. And the most-successful managers must change similarly as they assume additional or different responsibilities through their careers, moving from head of sales to COO or from CFO to CEO. These leaders must pivot when needed, and agility requires that they be intellectually curious, ready to learn from others, communicative, collaborative, and willing to change.

But just as consistency can become rigidity, agility can become a lack of focus when it isn’t tempered by consistency. Purely agile leaders may be visionaries and change agents but lack the single-mindedness and dedication to execute their visions. They often turn to new projects before they’ve finished prior projects, and, in extreme cases, force their teams or organizations into chaos and instability.

Striking the balance:

It’s in the combination of consistency and agility that leaders can become strategic, performing an organization’s purpose with excellence but changing course when the situation demands. These leaders have high quality standards, achieve goals, and expect consistency, but they are also open to change, keep an eye on the external environment, and understand when old ways of working no longer pass the test of the market in which they compete. They stay the course until it no longer makes sense and combine continuous improvement with innovation/ideation and strategy.

Of course, few individuals are equally consistent and agile, just as few people are ambidextrous. So how can leaders hold these traits in balance?

First, to paraphrase Socrates, “know thyself.” Are you more prone to consistency or agility? Are you more naturally capable of deep focus or ideation? Do you thrive in situations of chaos and rapid change or in periods that require relentless pursuit of a clearly defined goal? If in doubt, ask a spouse, best friend, or close work colleague — they almost always know. Understanding and accepting our tendencies is the foundation for growth.

With that understanding in hand, surround yourself with others who complement your traits. For managers, it’s wise to find a strong “number two” who can check your worst impulses and enhance your strengths. Are you an agile visionary? Find a structured, methodical, and disciplined deputy or peer. If you are a consistent operator, find a strong voice for agility on your immediate team or a mentor to push your creativity, no matter how frustrating that might be. And empower those people to speak up and challenge you.  Developing a culture of motivated and empowered individuals is critical to making and sustaining the organizational changes.

Please watch this great speech by Raymond Floyd of Suncor Energy (provided by Industryweek)

Complement this organization model with operational process. To ensure consistency, develop strong dashboards and balanced scorecards to assure outcomes are consistently reached and continually improving. To assure agility, develop a fluid planning model that allows the organization to change outside of the formal annual planning process and create an annual strategic planning process that looks outward to the external environment and forces the organization to contemplate big ideas. As an individual, do this for yourself, perhaps as an end-of-year exercise, to make sure you’re pointed at the right goals and aspirations for where you are as a leader. Driving Operational Excellence is the best way to summarize the approach.

Finally, with these people and processes in place, seek to learn and grow. If you’re naturally an agile thinker, you may never be the most consistent operational manager (and some research would argue against attempting it), but you can get better. And you can often do so simply by consciously observing what’s working around you and then forcing yourself to learn and grow. Make note of those traits you admire in others — those that complement your own — and find ways to practice them.

As leaders, all of us will be forced to balance consistency and agility in our careers and in the organizations we serve. Are you doing so today? If not, do you understand yourself and have you thought about the people and processes around you that can help move you into greater balance?


Ketan_Sharad_Deshpande_Maple_Grove_MinnesotaThe author, KetanDeshpande, lives in Minnesota and writes about a variety of topics in his blog such as global economy, market and industry trends, successful strategies for businesses, and others. Leveraging his global strategic leadership experience from the manufacturing industry to offer insights in to how businesses can meet the sustainable growth and profitability goals.

Ketan Deshpande is also passionate about sustainability and renewable energy; he curates and shares latest updates in his blog posts. Recently the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency(SMMPA) of Litchfield, Minnesota, endorsed Ketan Deshpande for an energy conservation project.

This blog also features memorable events, travel experiences and his favorite places to visit in the great state of Minnesota.

2 thoughts on “Strategic leaders need to be agile yet consistent

  1. Fantastic article. HBR and others have also written a lot on this topic. Love Raymond Floyd’s video. Wish the video quality was better. May be you can just add a link to a video with better quality.

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