News Stories · Leadership - Agility

Agile does not mean abandoning traditional skills, just knowing when to use them

Leaders must learn to balance both traditional and emerging skills as the world transitions to digital, according to Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behaviour Jennifer Jordan.
October 2020
 - IMD Business School

COVID-19 has accelerated our evolution to digital, but that evolution is not yet complete; traditional leadership skills can still be just as important as new traits when it comes to leading organizations in a rapidly-changing world.

But how do you know which approach is right at any given moment? How do you strike the right balance between the two?

“Leadership has changed in the time of digital disruption. We know that leaders need different skills and abilities but, in some ways, the situation has not fully changed because, sometimes, we are still living and working in the traditional or pre-digital world,” Jordan said.

“You have to balance the skills of the emerging world, such as having a vision or being able to use data, with the skills of the traditional world.”

Jordan points to seven key tensions between traditional leadership and emerging leadership attributes that executives must understand and approach in hybrid ways.

Expert/learnerPossessing specific expertise and competencies versus being open and willing to learn from others

Constant/adaptor: Being consistent and sticking to decisions versus being prepared to change direction as circumstances change

Tactician/visionary: Having a clearly-defined plan versus knowing your ultimate destination without fixing a specific route

Teller/listener: Giving advice versus listening to others

Power-holder/power-sharer: Lead from the front as the centre of power versus empowering others

Intuitionist/analyst: Reading your gut versus using data to make decisions

Perfectionist/accelerator: Trying to get it right first time versus moving more quickly, even if that means failing fast

Professor Jordan explains that developing a sense of self-awareness and situational awareness can help leaders understand how much weight to give to these old and new skills.

This process can begin with the following questions.

Self-awareness: What are your strengths and weaknesses? What are your default positions and responses?

Situational awareness: How finely tuned are your emotional and situational intelligence? How do you use them to adapt to situations and call on different leadership skills?

“We know a good amount about emotional intelligence, but less about situational intelligence,” Jordan explained. “But, essentially, it is about mindfulness, tacit knowledge and testing hypotheses out in the environment.”

A combination of self-awareness – knowing what are your default settings – and situational awareness – understanding what is happening and what is required – enables leaders to adjust or compensate their responses and to adopt the most appropriate leadership style as circumstances change.

“How do you ensure you are going to be on the less-used side of your default setting? If you are in an urgent crisis situation, you need to be more telling than listening,” she said. “If you have more luxury of time, you can adjust the balance.”

Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behaviour Jennifer Jordan is leading the session Being an Agile Leader in a Time of Disruption at OWP liVe in November.