Agility Displaces Flexibility According to New Leadership Survey

Forget flexibility. Agility -- proactively transitioning between opposing behaviors -- is now one of the most important characteristics of an effective leader according to a new survey by global career and leadership consulting company Lee Hecht Harrison.

Last month, more than 130 senior business executives and HR professionals at Fortune 500 organizations from around the country ranked the top three traits of leadership as follows:

  • Influencing others to assume leadership in their roles (72%)
  • Delivering measurable business results (70%)
  • Being agile in handling multiple, sometimes conflicting issues (68%)

Of the seven choices, flexibility ("being flexible when dealing with situations") tied with "monitor operations and performance" as the least important traits (11%).

When asked to choose between two behaviors that represent the most critical leadership skills for their organizations, 89% of respondents favored an agile leader who anticipates change over a flexible leader, defined as a person who adapts to change.

"Clearly, agility matters more than flexibility," says Andrea Huff, executive vice president and managing director of Leadership Development/Coaching for Lee Hecht Harrison. "The leaders we interviewed said flexibility is much too passive and reactive, which is why it fell to the bottom of the list."

Although the terms may seem interchangeable, Huff explained that, "agility is about being intentional and proactive."

This research confirms what Huff's colleagues are hearing from their clients. "Increasingly, executives say that responding to situations in a flexible way is not enough," she says. "In today's business climate, leaders must be agile enough to anticipate future trends and patterns in their business and know how to shift quickly when they reach a point of diminishing returns."

So how can individuals develop agility for themselves and their organization? Of six choices, respondents identified these top three essential steps:

  • Listen in a more focused way to what my customers and employees are telling me. (73%)
  • Monitor the external environment to identify threats and opportunities. (61%)
  • Seek out feedback to drive stronger business results. (55%)

"The business world's serving up more complex issues and demanding more of its leaders," says Huff. "Our goal is to help leaders at every level handle these demands in ways that boost productivity and revenue."


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