Last month, I went to the US to work and had a series of homecomings. The first was my trip to San Diego, where I had lived for more than ten years. It was followed by a trip back to my most recent US home, Albuquerque, NM. And the last stop was the return to my new home here in Dublin, Ireland.
On both trips to San Diego and Albuquerque, I reconnected with old friends, went to a few of my old haunts and hangouts, and ate at my favorite restaurants. I loved every minute of it. Being with people I have known for a long time and going back to places that were so familiar was comforting.
But at the same time, it is a bit unsettling to see how people and things have changed. As my trip progressed, I unexpectedly began to feel more connected to my new home in Dublin. Typically, going back “home” can make one feel homesick. But as I reconnected with my roots, I was simultaneously reminded of how much I have changed and how much more I want to learn and do.
Leadership is the same way. It is rooted in our earliest experiences when we discovered we were meant to lead, when we fumbled and made mistakes. Those early experiences keep us grounded, but there is still so much more to be learned and tackle, and quite frankly…to get right.
Leadership is a moving target, and just because you hit a bull’s eye once doesn’t mean you’ll be able to every time. As you grow and improve as a leader, you will still make mistakes, because people are complicated and targets move. So leaders must be agile and adept at flexing their style and approach to reach their goal, or hit that moving target. Research conducted by Columbia University Teacher’s College said agility is a critical leadership skill, and defined it as the ability to grow from mistakes, stay flexible and rise to various challenges.
Here are 8 steps you can take to be a more agile leader:
#1 Listen to others:
Listening is the most powerful and underutilized tool that leaders have at their disposal. Your team gives you a lot of information about their needs and wants, and they are also full of ideas and solutions. Take the time to listen deeply without inserting your own ideas, judgments, or solutions.
#2 Learn to read between the lines:
People don’t always say what they mean so leaders have to learn to read between the lines. Learn to recognize more subtle and nuanced messages being sent by others.
#3 Be curious and ask questions:
Leadership isn’t about having all of the answers; in fact, the best leaders know they don’t. Trust your team and create the space and freedom for them to come up with solutions. Approach challenges with curiosity and ask provoking questions, inspire and equip your team to problem solve.
#4 Consider alternate solutions:
Rarely is there ever one way to approach a challenge or solve a problem. A solution that worked for one may not work for another so be willing to flex and consider alternate solutions.
#5 Try something new:
Doing things as they have always been done can be a trap, it is easy to get stuck in what we know and have done before. Leaders who are agile are able to try and test new things, they embrace innovation and change, and ensure their team is equally able to innovate and change.
#6 Seek advice or counsel from a mentor:
Agile leaders must be committed to continual growth and learning, and mentors are powerful resources when you need to be pushed outside your comfort zone or challenge your own ways.
#7 Find the lesson in each mistake:
There are lessons to be learned from everything we do, even when we get it wrong. Agile leaders learn from their mistakes so when you screw up take the time to reflect and analyze. You have to own your mistake, and then move forward.
#8 Know where you want to grow and how you are going to do it:
Agile leaders have a vision and aspire for more. Have a list of what’s next and how you plan to achieve it. Then as soon as you conquer that, keep going.
You can start taking action towards each of these steps today. Some may take more time, practice, or resources than others but each is a worthy investment into your leadership. I say it all of the time, “Leadership is a journey, not a destination.” And the best leaders are committed to the journey.