Saturday, November 28th, 2020

Leadership Agility in Team Leadership

On March 23, I had the pleasure of being interviewed on a blog radio program called Leadership Matters. The host was E.G. Sabastian, and my topic was “Leadership Agility in Leading Teams.” The interview was recorded and can be accessed at no cost via the links below …

In the introduction, I describe three increasingly more agile approaches to team leadership: Expert, Achiever, and Catalyst. I identify the key differences between these three levels of leadership agility. I also describe how, as team leaders become more agile, they develop teams that are more agile. That is, they have an increased ability to perform effectively amid conditions of rapid change and complexity. This portion is captured in the following audio clip:

Overview: Three Levels of Team Leadership Agility …

I then tell a story that describes how a real-life leader who shifted his approach to team leadership from the Expert to the Achiever level – and how this benefitted him, his team, and the larger organization. This story is told in the audio clip below:

Real-life Story: Shifting from Expert to Achiever Team Leadership

Finally, I tell the story of a Senior VP who transformed his own leadership and that of his team from the Achiever to the Catalyst level. This shift was the pivotal change in a dramatic business turnaround. This story is captured the in the following audio clip:

Real-life Story:  Shifting from Achiever to Catalyst Team Leadership

A brief overview of the three levels of team leadership agility is provided below …

Expert Team Leadership

Expert team leaders have a tactical orientation. When we’re operating at this level of agility, our team leadership is more like supervision than management, because we focus more on our individual relationship with each direct report.

This is sometimes called the “hub and spoke” approach, where we are at the hub, and our relationship with each direct report is a different spoke. We’re trying to coordinate their work in our own heads. As a result, we don’t focus on developing our direct reports as a team. Because of our tactical orientation, we’re also vulnerable to micro-managing.

Achiever Team Leadership

Achiever team leaders can still be tactical when they need to, but they’ve also developed a strategic orientation. When we’re operating at this level of agility, we pay attention to each direct report, but we see that our group of direct reports is a “system” that needs to work together well in order to be effective. We also realize that part of our job as a team leader is to keep everyone motivated and “bought into” key decisions.

We don’t try to direct all the action, but instead try to orchestrate it. For example, instead of just holding information-sharing meetings, as we tend to do at the Expert level, we include agenda items that require group discussion, because we feel this will increase shared understanding, motivation, and buy-in.

Catalyst Team Leadership

Catalyst team leaders retain the ability to do all the things that Expert and Achiever team leaders can do, but they’ve also developed a broader, deeper perspective and set of leadership skills. When we’re operating at this level, we not only focus on ensuring that the team meets its immediate objective. We also attempt to build the team’s overall leadership capacity by creating norms of high participation and empowerment, where there’s a lot of open discussion and good listening, and team members are all open to being influenced by each other.

This approach comes about partly because we’re now interested in getting team member’s input not only to get their buy-in, but because we think this will actually improve the quality of our decisions. We retain our ability to be decisive, but we and the team benefit more from the quality of discussion that takes place.

A team’s level of agility needs to be well-matched to the pace of change in their environment and the extent to which their success requires the effective management of interdependencies. More and more teams, especially senior teams, need to be operating at the Catalyst level of agility. The question is: When a team leader and their team need to shift to a higher level of agility, how do they do this? The stories in the interview address this question.

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