Leadership Solutions from Read Solutions Group: A Model for Leadership Agility

Monday, October 05, 2009

A Model for Leadership Agility

At the International Coach Federation Conference in November 2008, I was introduced to a new leadership competency model. A model focused on enabling leadership in a rapidly changing world. I invite the reader of my blog to join with me on a journey through the book. By summarizing the work of the authors in these writings, I process the information for myself, and hopefully encourage you to look more deeply into this insightful book, and into your own development as a leader.

A competency is defined as a measurable characteristic of a person related to success at work. It can be a skill, an attribute, or an attitude. Competency models can span the range from what it takes to be a successful professional – Action-orientation, Interpersonal Communication, Integrity – to senior-level positions – Managing Vision, Strategic Thinking, Dealing with Paradox. Yet if, as columnist Eric Dezenhall of BusinessWeek suggests, crises are the rule, not the exception, for Obama, as the leader of the United States, what then faces the business leader in this world of globalization, economic crises, requirements for rapid change, uncertainty and new competition - a paradoxical place of diversity and connectedness. While traditional competency models remain valid and informative, the question is do they go far enough to address the agility needed to keep pace, or lead, in this complex world.

Joiner and Josephs posit a competency model for leaders exploring levels of agility in four key areas – context-setting, stakeholder, creativity, and self-leadership in their book Leadership Agility: Five Levels of Mastery for Anticipating and Initiating Change.

  • Context-setting agility involves scanning the situation, evaluating the changes taking place and considering the best initiatives in light of your purpose.
  • Stakeholder agility requires the ability to understand the perspectives and realities of those people and organizations that have a stake in, or will be impacted by your initiatives, and to consider how best to engage them.
  • Creative agility involves learning from past experiences as well as seeking new and different ways of solving complex problems.
  • Self-leadership agility requires discipline and skill in self-awareness of thoughts, feeling and behaviors, and the motivation to continue to develop and grow.

Joiner and Josephs define five levels in each in of these areas which when combined are named Expert, Achiever, Catalyst, Co-Creator and Synergist. At each of these levels, they define the typical set of behaviors that would be seen in how leadership is viewed, pivotal conversations, agility in leading teams, and organizational change leadership. Let’s look briefly at how these five levels might vary by looking a leader new into his or her role.

Expert: When the expert steps into a new role with energy, drive and leadership, they jump right in. Meetings are held everyone, reports and data are combed through, conclusions are drawn, new directions are set and communicated and the Expert leads the organization in solving the key problems.

Achiever: The achiever arrives with a clear understanding of her mandate. She spends a lot of time getting to know her team, being visible, and creating a consistent message of the direction of the organization. She brings her team together to outline the strategy, and works with them to evaluate whether the right structure and people are in place to reach the goals.

Catalyst: The catalyst looks beyond the mandate to how to achieve the objectives and create a sustainable high performance organization. He’s met with thought leaders throughout the organization and encouraged his team to do so as well. He’s engaged three levels and more in an interactive strategic planning process. When he finds resistance in the organization, he seeks creative solutions that support execution of the developing plans.

Co-Creator: The co-creator knows that she will need to achieve the desired business outcomes and develop a high performance organization, but she additionally sets her sights on how to be an industry leader in corporate responsibility. She outlines her short-, near-, and long-term vision for the organization; she engages people inside and outside the firm in questions of how to strengthen relationships, and she models and coaches her team on collaboration and broad accountability. The co-creator drives the ongoing message of how profitability and social responsibility go hand-in-hand.

Synergist: The synergist builds on all of his competencies in building collaborative teams, delivering results and driving organizational change. He creates a leadership team that can collective drive the vision with the organization, freeing the synergist to focus on building unique, varied, and ground-shifting partnerships, collaborations. The synergist asks the questions about how to deliver the results in the right way, with the right people and bring about positive change in the world at large.

Each level builds on the skills, experiences and competencies of the prior levels. Each requires more of the leader in terms of context-setting, stakeholder engagement, creativity and self-leadership. The question to ask is which level would you like to have as your leader, and at which level are you demonstrating leadership?

In subsequent postings, we’ll explore each of these five levels in more detail and look at how to develop the competencies in how leadership is viewed, pivotal conversations, agility in leading teams, and organizational change that move leaders up the levels.

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