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When Balance Becomes Agility

Photo Courtesy of Brett Jordan

After having spent decades in people leadership positions, I was trained in balanced leadership and saw that as the best way to lead. It wasn’t until recently, though, that I realized the way I had been looking at “balanced leadership” was actually missing something.

If you are not familiar with the term, balanced leadership is traditionally thought of as the ability to lead with both the harder edges (assertive, candor, decisive) and the softer edges (warmth, grace, empathy). As I was coaching leaders during- and post-pandemic, I realized there were critical leadership attributes in between those hard and soft edges!

Photo courtesy of Ian Flores

When I stepped back to consider these additional attributes, I finally realized the significance of true leadership agility vs balanced leadership. Focusing on leadership agility was a game-changer for leaders that were struggling with moving from pre- to during- to post-pandemic leadership.

Leadership agility simply means your ability to pivot seamlessly in the moment, based on the needs of the situation or person. It is the ability to pull from a master list of leadership attributes, with confidence, to successfully navigate those difficult or complex situations.

Here’s a perfect example.

One of my clients, let’s call her Jennifer for the sake of confidentiality, was leading a high-performing and highly accountable team prior to the pandemic. During the pandemic, she had to lead (and rightly so) with a lot of empathy and grace as her team struggled with the personal implications of the COVID-19 crisis. After the pandemic, she had a hard time bringing back high expectations and accountability needed to run a profitable business. We worked together to help her understand and utilize empathy along with curiosity, perspective and assertiveness to have those difficult conversations with her team. She became more confident in discussing, in the moment, performance expectations and feedback driving resiliency for herself and her team at the same time. Ultimately, she was able to lead her team back to pre-pandemic performance, while allowing for some flexibility in how their work was accomplished.

The keys for her success were adding curiosity, perspective, and resilience in her performance discussions. By seeking to understand, she was able to find connection, common ground and alignment around performance expectations.

If history tells us anything, the instances of unexpected disruption – both macro and micro – will continue to happen, potentially at a faster pace. As a leader, remaining calm and intentional will increase our leadership agility.

Just as you saw in Jennifer’s example, I’ve found that adding the these three leadership attributes (e.g. the qualities in the middle between hard and soft) will become increasingly important to add to your toolbox.

  • Resiliency means the ability to recover or pivot, from unexpected and sudden disruption or change. In the moment, we are able to pause/reflect and see the opportunities in front of us. We can then lead our teams through change, with confidence.

  • Curiosity means to seek to understand; be open to learn; use questions instead of assumptions. Ask more questions and you may be surprised that your assumptions were way off. “Tell me more about…” “What does x mean to you?”, “What part of this plan gives you the most concern?” “Help me understand…”

  • Perspective means the appearance of not pre-judging and being willing to consider other points of view. I call this “cube thinking”. There is always my viewpoint but what are the viewpoints of key stakeholders or resistors? What is the situational view? How can I make this a win/win?

But wait, there is another benefit of adding these agility attributes to your toolbox.

I have found that when I’m caught off guard or emotions are rising (emotional intelligence: self-awareness of and management of emotion) – resilience, curiosity and perspective buy me time! They are powerful in creating space and understanding in the moment. When the right question is asked/answered and other perspectives are understood – identifying common ground becomes easier to see. What would have been resistance and conflict can easily become trust and collaboration.

How agile is your leadership?

I encourage you to be intentional about utilizing these agility tools in your leadership approach. If you would like a free copy of my Leadership Agility Self-assessment, please click here.

The path to great leadership is long and integrating resilience, curiosity and perspective will increase your leadership ability and enhance your leadership overall. Building that toolbox will serve you (and your people) best.

Ann Ritterspach, the Growth Coach at WeInspireWe, is passionate about inspiring leadership potential. With a great appreciation of the leaders before her and the opportunities to learn, Ann offers coaching to be a catalyst for growth for her clients, deeply connecting with them, and energizing them to pursue their career goals and dreams. If you're ready to elevate your leadership, schedule your free strategy session with Ann today.

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