This article originally appeared on Forbes
I used to get to the office early and stay later than anyone. As a leader, I wanted to demonstrate my dedication to our success, and I also wanted to set an example. What began as an aspiration became a habit and finally, in my mind, one of the secrets to my success. But more recently, it just wasn’t working for me. As my days increasingly became blocked off into nonstop 45-minute increments, it was becoming harder and harder to stay on top of things. I tracked my activities throughout the day and recognized that I could get more done if I worked from home for two hours in the morning — no meetings — and drove in after the rush hour.
Wow! by taking care of email and catching up on reports first thing, I could be more productive, less stressed, and entirely present for my team. But squaring this new way to working with my belief that face time equals productive time – that was hard. And even harder to confront and adapt was my “baked in” belief that people should be at work when they are working, and that teams are more productive when they are working together. But one of the foundational skillsets we need to embrace to be resilient is to be self- aware and to leverage that awareness, discarding behavior that is no longer effective for us, for our teams, for our business.
Agile transformation is the theme of the decade. We’re saturated with reports, books, charts, infographics and white papers describing the agile organization. In their eagerness to restructure, leaders too often miss a decisive truth: Agile transformations depend entirely on the human factor. A McKinsey report says simply: “Change yourself first, then the organization.”
Far more than understanding how agile systems work, the real change starts with us as leaders needing to find the courage to reinvent ourselves and publicly model these behaviors across our companies. Simply put, as leaders, we have to be open to changing our own habitual ways of working, of evaluating success, of interacting with our colleagues – and we have to be willing to own it, be open and honest about it, and empower others to change as well.
This may seem like a trivial example of change, but look again: all around us we see examples of changes in our business processes, our methods of working and getting results, the way we interact with our customers and colleagues. As leaders we set the pace for change, model it and enable it in others. The alternative is to be disrupted into irrelevance. We find examples every day in the business press of companies who failed to institutionalize changing business processes at their own peril (hello, brick and mortar retailers).
To know what to change about your own attitudes and behaviors, begin by accepting that business now is in a permanent state of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA), and we are all affected by those forces. There aren’t any hard and fast rules, so start modeling the behaviors that will make you more effective and successful. That is, become agile yourself.
Agile leaders are agile learners
Responding to VUCA means developing an unconditionally honest perspective on what is working and what isn’t. It means testing the status quo with intelligent, incremental risks and innovations and then seeking immediate feedback. It means becoming what psychologist David Smith calls “learning agile.” Agile learners practice flexibility, collaboration, experimentation, information gathering and [again] speed. They have a growth mindset as individuals that carries over into company culture.
Agile leaders gather feedback and act on it, which requires a healthy ego when facts contradict their expectations or beliefs. A stubborn resistance to change course in the face of new information causes organizational failure over and over. It also causes leaders to stick with products and practices that have served them well without recognizing that conditions have changed (goodbye Hip Chat, hello Slack). I only changed my first-in-the-office habit when confronted with the facts.
Agile leaders innovate. Clayton Christensen observed that organizations which stick to the practices that made them successful are most resistant to innovation, and this inertia – some might call it persistence – dooms them in the long run. The courage to change “what’s working” is the most difficult demand of today’s VUCA environment because by the time “what’s working” isn’t working anymore, it’s too late.
Model agility for the organization
Leaders have great power to model change. Preparing the organization for agility means going public with your own reinvention. For example, being candid about which of your predictions are accurate and which miss the mark encourages others to make predictions and announce the result. This is a big personal risk for managers and line workers, but public accountability is a critical habit of agile organizations.
Finally, speak candidly about the difficulty of agile transformation. Tell your team what you are doing to remain resilient in the face of relentless change. In the brave new world of agile organizations, transparency has the power to disarm doubt.