According to Dictionary.com, the definition of agility is “the power of moving quickly and easily; nimbleness; or the ability to think and draw conclusions quickly; intellectual acuity ” Having agility is often associated with physical movements such as dance, sports, or working out, and having it is frequently highlighted as a great asset. As the second piece of the definition indicates, agility also relates to your “mental movement” – the way you intellectually process information and react. Mental agility is just as valuable an asset as physical agility, and flexing it is just as important.
Every business faces disruption. Sometimes the business is initiating the disruption (e.g., a new product, process, service, or acquisition), and sometimes it is being disrupted (e.g., a pandemic, intense or new competition, market challenges, or being acquired). In addition, both often occur within a rapidly changing environment that can add layers of uncertainty and unexpected circumstances. When faced with change and particularly the unknown, leaders often retreat to their proven methods, existing skills, best practices, and known paths based on past experience to add certainty and simplify the approach. However, strong inner agility can actually help a leader embrace complexity and navigate ambiguity to achieve more effective results.
Having strong inner agility means you can read and react to situations, and you have enough self-awareness to know that “reading a situation” requires context and perspective beyond your own point of view. AAccording to McKinsey & Company’s article “Leading with Inner Agility”, intentional practice of this skill set includes the following behaviors:
- not pressing but pausing (i.e., “becoming more still”) for effective action,
- withholding judgment, challenging your own assumptions or others,
- being open to new paths or ideas,
- asking deep questions, listening completely with an open mind, and/or reframing situations for exploration, and
- providing direction but allowing for flexibility and creativity in an approach.
In addition, it might mean initially leaning into the complexity of a situation to learn and become more complex in our own thinking rather than trying to add certainty or simplify it.
During the pandemic, we’ve all had to lean into our inner agility out of necessity. Past actions and processes often did not offer a solid path forward. Our organizations had to become more agile and, as leaders, so did we. While we all hope to move past the pandemic and into a time where we can reclaim some of what once was “normal”, we will not be leaving behind the requirement for inner agility.
The future of work in nearly every industry will continue to require new ways of thinking and inner agility. As you navigate change and disruption, regardless of your role, consider how “agile” your mental muscles are and how often you are intentionally practicing the behaviors described above to strengthen those muscles. By being more purposeful to flex our inner agility, we can create new and better paths forward and achieve stronger outcomes for ourselves, our teams, and our organizations.