Recently I’ve been coaching a number of people who are moving into a more “agile” organisational structure. In most cases this has been met by enthusiasm to embrace a new way of working, but the biggest question I have been asked is: “How do I need to adapt my leadership style, especially when I don’t have daily visibility or direct responsibility for my teams (BAU) business as usual work?”
I was curious to understand how I could add more value with my coaching, so I began researching the different skill sets required by leaders. I spoke to numerous leaders who are finding their feet in these flatter and agile organisations; I explored recent leadership theories and articles available on the net, reflected on papers from Mckinsey, Deloitte, Harvard and read several books, most recently Daring Leaders by Brene Brown (which I’d highly recommend).
What struck me was, this need to evolve leadership isn’t purely a result of the transformation of business structures and the increase of technology, but it is also due to there being a more diverse workforce than ever. There's an aging population where businesses need to adapt to the widening age gap, an incredible mix of skills and experience across our people which comes from a variety of cultural and geographical backgrounds as well as gender and disability diversity. This means that leaders need to take a more Human Centred approach by listening, understanding, individualising and connecting more than ever before.
I’ve simplified my findings into 4 key success factors. I’d also like to highlight that when I describe ‘leaders’ going forward I not only mean this for people who have the formal responsibility of direct reports, but for everyone. Whether you call yourself an employee? Self–leader? Individual contributor? Or subject matter expert? Essentially leadership applies to anyone who takes responsibility for their behaviour, actions, input and achievements.
Sharing a clear vision to engage the head, heart and hands:
It’s critical as a business or team leader to have a clear and compelling purpose. Be specific about what you are trying to achieve, gain input from others and once clear, communicate this regularly. This is what people will anchor themselves to and drives their motivation. If this is not clear, especially within flatter structures people will be left with no hierarchy and no clarity of direction.
As teams and roles are being formed it’s important to ensure there’s clarity of accountability. Ask what’s in scope? what needs to be achieved? Then as a formal leader it’s important to adopt a hands-off governance style to allow for creativity, risk and innovation.
“Who you are is how you lead”, Brene Brown
My whole philosophy around leadership is that it all starts with who you are, your principles, behaviour and actions will significantly impact culture and people will model themselves after what their leader does. It’s therefore critical that we are proactively taking action to increase self-awareness. Not with a view to validate what we know about ourselves and to rationalise who we are, but to truly reflect, ask for feedback, look for learnings and be open to changing into the best version of ourselves. Ensuring absence of egos and leading through authenticity, integrity and vulnerability so we can listen, grow and connect with those around us and understand what ‘They’ are trying to achieve.
If we strive to create agile teams that can truly collaborate and leverage their strengths, there’s no room for success to be about you. It’s about adopting a shared servant leadership style and building trust with teams. Formal leaders should be able to remove barriers and get out of the way. This calls for a mindset shift to put people at the centre and empower them through up skilling, encourage innovation, risk and collaboration.
Strength of character is key, people and teams need consistency, clarity, and encouragement. Bringing a need to be principled and act with integrity, demonstrate humility and certainly to role model the importance of taking time to recharge in order to build/maintain resilience.
Leveraging strengths and learn
In every role there is a need to have a reasonable Level of Technical knowledge/ability, but the thing about innovation and stepping into unchartered territory is that you don’t know what you don’t know. However, you know your strengths and how you can support and fit within the team. Whilst collaborating, look to learn and grow, take risks by rotating, sharing knowledge and skill sets. Create a continuously learning culture and model what you want more of by celebrating failures and learnings.
As a formal leader your role is to nurture the ability and genuine interesting in connecting with the team to find out what they need - seek to understand.
Look for Continuous improvement, in the words of George Bernard Shaw, “There are those who look at things the way they are; and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” Improve and innovate how the team can work, whether this is enabling next generation technology, utilising the cloud, crowd sourcing or making change to the required systems, process, procedure and symbols.
Leading self and others
Be transparent, open honest and lean into constructive conversations that become a catalyst to change behaviours and outcomes as well as fostering trust. Maintain a focus on performance and outcomes - encourage teams to look ahead, identify trends and take action, make rapid decisions – consider 80/20, take a test learn approach.
Remove silos to increase collaboration and consider if there could be online communities?
Choose questions wisely, Eg avoid apportioning blame and constantly exploring root cause and problems. Take a learning based and solutions focused approach.
Look after yourself and your people – business leaders need to implement suitable benefits, take action to support wellness and offer flexibility in order to set people up for success in role or for future roles/increased responsibility.
Returning to the original question: “How do I need to adapt my leadership style, especially when I don’t have daily visibility or direct responsibility for my teams (BAU) business as usual work?” My summary response now is that there’s a fundamental need to re-evolve as leaders, these are not new behaviours but more about us consciously leveraging our humanistic qualities, be more principled, open, honest and empowering. Stop hierarchy, structure and control in order to get out of the way and encourage the best in ourselves and others which will allow business and people to innovate, perform and thrive.