How nimble are you?
April 15, 2020
“Nimble” is a buzzword that is often used as a point of pride by start-ups and as an aspiration by larger organizations. The ability to “move fast and be agile” is an increasingly crucial organizational trait, particularly since the rise of tech and its rapid-speed shifts in products and capabilities.
And right now, many organizations are finding out just how nimble they are as they pivot operations during COVID-19. Some businesses have shifted ways of working, with much of their staff going remote virtually overnight. Others have diverted production to something needed for fighting the virus. It’s not unlike wartime—a substantial shift is happening in how, and why, we work.
But have things actually changed in leadership? Are leaders being nimble in how they lead, or are they applying their usual mindset and leadership style as if nothing has happened?
For those who view their role as needing to see people in front of them doing the work, there may be endless Zoom calls driven by checking up rather than checking in. If your style is more laissez-faire, you may be inclined to leave people to it—if there’s a problem, they’ll let you know, right? Maybe. Maybe not. Perhaps your people are floundering from the lack of direction and don’t want to bother you, as they know you’re busy.
Nimbleness is about more than just moving fast. It’s about adaptation, ongoing evaluation, and continual planning. Quickly moving people to a different work set-up and then defaulting to the usual style of leadership is not being “nimble” or “agile.” We must adapt how we work as leaders as much as we’ve changed where we work.
Here are some tips for becoming a more nimble and agile leader:
Reflect critically on your role—On an ongoing basis, take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Are you communicating effectively? Is your set-up working for everyone, or do you need to shift things to do it better? What needs to change so that you and your team can be more effective? Are you changing some things too much and too often, causing frustration in your people? Try to stand down on feeling defensive and stay focused on your higher purpose as a leader.
Be flexible—How you used to work when people were in front of you won’t work now. Remote working requires flexibility to be effective. For example, if you’re having several team meetings a day, can your people get their individual work done too—especially if they have kids wanting their attention throughout the day? Some of your staff may do their best work in the early morning. Others may work best late at night. Be clear about when things need to get done and be flexible about how they get done.
Listen—When we are extremely busy and anxious, we listen less. We tend to be action-oriented and want to get things done. We may think this is being “nimble” because we’re moving fast. But if we’re not fundamentally shifting how we work, we may just be moving things (and people) around for the sake of it. Taking the time to listen to your employees about how they’re doing is incredibly valuable for you as a leader and for your organization. We often listen to respond—or in this climate, react. Try to stand down from that. Clear your mind and pay attention to what’s being said—and not said—so you can find the clues for what you need to do next.
Consult—Think of consulting as “listening with intent.” Actively seeking input from your staff on key areas that impact them and their work will help you find the key areas for making swift and effective change. The best solutions often come from your people—they’re the ones on the front lines and/or have a service lens that is different from yours. Asking for input also helps to increase ownership over the proposed changes and solutions. People will understand why you made your decisions, even when they may not necessarily agree with what you ultimately decide.
Involve—Consulting is seeking information and ideas. Involving is actually giving people the chance to work on or take the lead on something. Right now, people want to help. They want to demonstrate their value to your organization because they’re worried about their jobs. Let them show you what they can do. Involving your staff shouldn’t end when this crisis does, either. In the long term, it’s an effective way to increase engagement and build an even higher level of ownership as people can take action on their own ideas, and actively contribute to what the organization needs overall.
Your first step is to do a little critical reflection. How nimble are you, really? Are you actually adapting to the new terrain, or is it the same-old-same-old in pyjama pants rather than a suit? Being able to move fast and effectively is a key leadership skill for the future, as well as for now. Consider this your time to learn and lead by example.