Today’s complexity demands agile leadership.

Leading people and organizations have grown as complex and fast paced as every other business task. Leaders are under relentless pressure to do more with less, with teams that are more diverse, and with technology that changes how they work and how fast.

Organizations must ask: Are leaders agile enough for the challenge? Commonly, the answer is no. Leaders have to manage an increasingly diverse workforce, but few actually know how. In addition, many organizations lack the leadership capacity and processes to effectively manage virtual teams, leaving way too much to chance. Organizations also fail to recognize that leading in a complex world requires specific skills that most leaders don’t naturally possess

A new reality

Many who hold key leadership positions are retiring, leaving organizations grappling with how to sustain their business and culture as younger, less-experienced leaders fill the void. Companies struggle to quickly develop these emerging leaders. Most don’t have strong plans to transfer critical knowledge from the departing veterans.

Demographics are also changing. Millennials are the largest generational group in the workforce, and teams are increasingly diverse in other ways as well. Today’s leaders must get to know individuals on their teams and adjust their leadership style accordingly.

Lastly, nearly half the current workforce operates virtually at least part of the time, according to a 2016 Gallup poll. And, with the growing gig economy, organizations continue to be challenged to lead a virtual or augmented workforce.

Equipping yourself

There are apps that help coordinate work across distances (Trello, Slack, etc.), but they don’t help lead people. A leader’s tasks — creating a clear vision, providing effective feedback, coaching/developing direct reports — can’t be done with apps. Leading effectively demands agility. Agility means:

  • Deeply understanding each individual on a team, including personal strengths, needs and preferences.
  • The ability to quickly align teams on key issues or problems, and to realign them as the issues change.
  • Always having a Plan B and being ready to jump to it.

Not only must leaders be agile, their organizations must be agile, too. To know if your organization is equipped to lead in an agile way, start with these questions to uncover areas where you may need stronger focus:

1. What is the demographic makeup of your organization or team? How does this impact the way it functions?

2. What support is provided to ensure that leaders have the capacity and capability to lead through increasing complexity?

3. What processes ensure that employees remain aligned and on plan, even when working remotely or functioning as contractors?

4. What major changes does the organization expect over the next five years, and how will this affect the skills required of future leaders?

5. How are leaders held accountable for developing talent? What evidence ensures this is happening?

So, is your organization ready? If the answer is, “not really,” now is the time to build a plan and prepare. At the pace of business today, tomorrow is too late.


Kim Huggins is a consultant and partner at ALULA. Kim is a nationally recognized consultant, speaker and author on leadership and understanding multiple generations in the workforce. Her book, “GENerate Performance! Unleashing the Power of a Multigenerational Workforce,” has been cited as an invaluable leadership tool for any business wanting to attract and retain talent. She has a passion for and experience in generational diversity, change execution, leadership development/coaching, organizational development, employee engagement and cultures of innovation.