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Agility in leadership: What it is and how to assess it

Written by Raji Oluwaniyi

Some of the issues facing businesses today include increased competition, technological disruption, economic uncertainty, and geopolitical instability. Leaders who are agile and can quickly adapt to these challenges are more likely to keep companies in operation.

In this article, we’ll discuss what agility in leadership is and the qualities of an agile leader. We’ll also explore why leadership agility is important and the different types of agility.

Finally, we’ll lay out the steps to assess agile leaders by using our super-effective leadership test.

What is agility in leadership?

Agility in leadership is the ability to move quickly and easily to effect change. It describes the ability to prepare for unforeseen challenges that may surface in a business environment.

Situational awareness plays an essential role here because it enables the agile leader to be proactive instead of reactive. As such, it is a crucial skill in today’s evolving business landscape.

According to statistics gathered by Zippia, only around 48% of employees believe their company has high-quality leadership. This means it’s likely that many companies are unaware of the importance of having high-quality, agile leaders.  

Businesses should learn to harness good leadership skills in the workplace to be adaptive and responsive to complex conditions.

Why is agility important in leadership?

Agility helps leaders pivot strategies and operations to address any situation that may arise. As such, agile leaders have more ability to handle unexpected crises that may affect the business.

Agility enables individuals to make quick decisions to minimize the impact of change on their organization and stakeholders. Agile leaders are also more effective in leading diverse teams, managing complex projects, and fostering innovation.

Another benefit is their ability to identify and use the strengths of their team members successfully. They anticipate and reduce potential risks and create a continuous learning and improvement culture within their team.

Lack of agility is a symptom of bad leadership, which can be costly. Poor leadership can end up costing 7% of a firm’s annual turnover, so having agile employees in leadership roles is crucial. 

Qualities of an agile leader

Agile leaders have several attributes that enable them to excel in their work. Here are five primary qualities to look for in a leader:

  • Vision: Agile leaders have a clear and compelling vision of the future and can communicate it effectively to their teams. They are also open to feedback and willing to adjust their vision based on new information or changing circumstances.

  • Adaptability: A survey of 1,500 executives found that 71% of respondents said adaptability was the most important leadership quality. Agile leaders can quickly adjust their strategy and operations in response to changes in the business environment. They are also willing to experiment and take calculated risks to achieve their goals.

  • Resilience: Agile leaders are resilient and can handle stress and uncertainty. They are able to maintain their focus even in the face of adversity and can inspire their teammates to do the same.

  • Empathy: An agile leader has high emotional intelligence and can empathize with their team members and stakeholders. This enables them to understand their needs, motivations, and concerns, which helps them to create a supportive and inclusive work culture.

  • Collaboration: Agile leaders are collaborative and can build strong relationships with their team members, peers, and external partners. This means that they can make use of diverse perspectives and skills to achieve common goals.

4 types of agility in leadership

types of agility in leadership

Effective leaders show different types of agility, depending on the circumstances and challenges they face. Here are four examples of the different types of leadership agility: 

1. Strategic agility

Strategic agility refers to the skill of a leader to make quick decisions. It involves adjusting the organization’s long-term goals to align with changing market conditions.

Leaders with strategic agility are quick to adapt their business plans to seize opportunities and address potential threats. An example is a technology company developing new products and services by anticipating emerging trends.

2. Operational agility

Operational agility is the ability of a leader to be decisive and respond quickly to short-term changes and challenges in daily operations. 

For example, a hospital has a sudden surge in patients during a public health crisis. The leadership must move quickly to adjust the available resources and staff to manage the influx of patients successfully.

3. Learning agility

Learning agility is the ability of a leader to learn and adapt to new situations. Leaders with this skill are constantly seeking to gain new knowledge and the skills necessary to remain competitive and relevant in the market.

An example could be a marketing manager who learns and adopts new marketing techniques and tools to keep up with changing consumer trends.

4. Cultural agility

Cultural agility enables a leader to work successfully with people from diverse backgrounds and different cultures. Leaders who possess this skill are adept at navigating different cultural norms, communication styles, and work ethics.

An example could be a retail company that operates in different parts of the world.

The employees, suppliers, and customers have diverse cultural practices and norms, depending on which country they are based in. The leadership team must be able to adapt to and respect the diverse range of cultures. They must also use localization to make their brand relevant to residents of each country the organization operates in. 

How to assess for agility in leadership

how to assess for agility in leadership

A leadership agility assessment can be challenging because it requires a good understanding of what agility looks like in practice. Here are the steps for evaluating leadership agility:

1. Define agility in leadership

In a leadership context, agility means being flexible, making quick decisions, and changing strategy when necessary. Defining what agility means in your business and the specific leadership role you are assessing will help you develop a leadership ability framework for assessment.

2. Identify key competencies

Once you define agility in your organization, the next step is identifying the critical competencies for agile leadership. Some key competencies related to agile leadership are adaptability, creativity, decision-making, strategic thinking, and communication.

3. Develop assessment tools

Thirdly, you can develop assessment tools focusing on key competencies to evaluate a leader’s agility. These could include tests such as our Leadership & People Management test, surveys, interviews, 360-degree feedback, and performance reviews.

For example, you might develop interview questions focusing on leaders’ ability to adapt to change or make quick decisions. Similarly, you might create a survey that asks stakeholders to rate a leader’s strategic thinking or communication skills.

4. Conduct leadership assessments

You can conduct leadership assessments on an ongoing basis or as part of a formal performance review process.

Gathering feedback from several stakeholders, colleagues, direct reports, and supervisors is important when conducting assessments. This feedback from multiple sources can provide a comprehensive view of a leader’s agility.

5. Provide feedback and coaching

Finally, you can provide feedback and coaching to leaders based on the assessment results. For example, if a leader needs to improve in a particular area, you can give specific feedback and coaching to help them develop their leadership skills.

This might involve providing training or development opportunities, setting performance goals, or providing ongoing coaching and support.

TestGorilla’s leadership test makes all the difference

Leadership prescreening tests are a reliable approach to identifying agile leaders who can steer their companies and teams through rapidly changing environments.

TestGorilla offers several useful tests that evaluate candidates’ cognitive abilities, behavioral traits, and problem-solving skills. You can combine up to five of your chosen tests, including the Leadership & People Management test, to create a thorough skills assessment.

Finally, our prescreening tests enhance the objectivity and fairness of the hiring process. You can check out our test library for other useful tests to find the best candidates and reduce unconscious biases.

Sign up for your free plan with TestGorilla today to take advantage of pre-employment tests and find agile leaders for your organization.


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