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Making Leadership Agility
a Priority

Leadership Practices:
What’s Proven. What’s “Worth Less.”

Title: Making Leadership Agility a Priority

Agile organizations are quicker at anticipating trends, responding to problems, and adapting to change—vital advantages in a competitive world. Yet, despite agility being a near-universal goal, many companies don’t move at the pace their leaders need them to.

In our most recent Global Leadership Forecast, included in the DDI Leadership Databank, nearly half of all leaders considered their company more sluggish than agile. And what happens when the spotlight is turned back to leaders themselves?

We created an agility index blending leader capability in VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) environments with effectiveness in four foundational skills underlying leader readiness for these challenges: communicating/interacting, managing change, inspiring others, and fostering innovation. Only 18 percent of leaders were strong on this agility index. Low rates of agility for both companies and leaders virtually guarantee mismatches—and at a potentially great cost.

Best PracticeBest Practice: Hiring and Developing Leaders Who Are More Agile

Research included in our Leadership Databank shows that the impact of a widespread agile leadership pool—for those few companies able to attain it—is enormous. Companies with a larger pool of agile leaders (30 percent or higher) reduce new leader ramp-up time by three months.

Impact of Agility on the Organization


Agility is also a clear financial differentiator: Organizations in the top 20 percent of a financial composite (profitability, earnings per share, rate of investor return, and stockholder equity) are 5.8 times more likely to have a high proportion of agile-ready leaders than those in the bottom 20 percent.

Worth Less PracticeWorth Less Practice: Force-Fitting Agile Leaders into a Non-Agile Culture

On the other hand, it’s costly to assume that the returns described above are assured when leaders are hired or promoted with an agile skill set and personality profile. Companies must also balance leader readiness against the opportunity side of the equation: what is being done continually and aggressively to channel a leader’s agile instincts into actual—and constant—opportunities to apply them.

When the promise of an accelerated culture doesn’t match the reality of the latitude available to agile leaders, the leaders disengage and leave at staggering rates. Our research found that agile leaders working in slow-growth companies were 32 percent less engaged and 47 percent were more likely to seek another job compared to those in high-growth companies. Simply put, agile leaders clash more often with—and depart more quickly from—companies that are performing poorly and that have highly conservative cultures.

This finding points out a trap, a never-slowing treadmill of effort and change management when it comes to agility. Companies unable to follow through culturally and strategically will invest in hiring and promoting agile leaders at their own peril; they’re likely to lose them just as quickly. Avoid the agility mismatch of claiming to be agile but failing to back it up with pathways and systems for leaders to take decisive and rapid action, as this mismatch will only push your most agile leaders elsewhere.

For HR professionals, the implications of pursuing agility extend far beyond hiring and promotion, to organizational design and cultural transformation to reinforce velocity and a sense of urgency. The alternative—hiring agile leaders as a shortcut to making the organization agile—just doesn’t work!

View the webinar: Achieving Talent Agility: Keeping Pace with the Speed of Change.

DDI’s Leadership Databank shows which practices are really the best—and which ones to revise or abandon.

Talk to an Expert: Making Leadership Agility a Priority
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