Three Levels of Leadership Agility


Achiever level and, even better, to the Catalyst level of agility.

Leading Projects
Experts have a tactical, problem-solving orientation. Once the requirements of a project have been defined, Experts tend to take them for granted, focusing on the technical tasks needed to meet these requirements. They prefer to avoid substantial engagement with stakeholders. If conflicts arise, they try to resolve them by relying on their authority or expertise. Overall, they're more comfortable leading projects (if any exist) where requirements remain relatively static over the life of the project.

Achievers retain the ability to focus on tactical issues, but they've also developed a strategic, outcome orientation that gives them the agility needed to adjust their projects as requirements change. Their attunement with business outcomes and their ability to understand cross-functional perspectives motivates Achievers to engage with stakeholders and align their projects with business objectives. They usually try to gain stakeholder buy-in to their projects by persuading them about its benefits, by accepting input consistent with project objectives, or both.

Catalysts can be tactical or strategic as needed, but they also have the capacity to pursue more visionary objectives that may take a decade or so to be fully realized. They're more comfortable responding to the uncertainty that attends continuous change, and they're more fully attuned to the human dimension of visionary initiatives. For example, a Catalyst perspective on the agile movement sees that, at its core, it's about creating organizational communities that value people, trust, respect, and collaboration. [2] They're likely to engage in genuine, proactive dialogue with a diverse set of key stakeholders, not simply to gain buy-in, but because they feel it will improve their decisions.

Leading Teams
Experts rarely create teams in the true sense of the word. They tend to work with direct reports one-on-one. Even in group meetings, they prefer information sharing and one-on-one interactions to team problem solving. They're often too caught up in technical details to lead their team in a strategic manner.

Achievers realize that their direct reports need to be managed, motivated and developed as a team. Their team meetings include discussion of important issues. However, they often orchestrate these meetings to gain buy-in to their own views, a critical limitation because this prevents teams from developing the self-organizing capabilities they need to be truly agile.

Catalysts retain the team leadership skills they developed at previous levels, but they usually find a dynamic balance between acting as a team leader and facilitator, thereby generating a higher level of participation and influence within the team. They believe that this creates a truly agile team that gets more effective results in dynamic business environments.

Overall, our research found that managers with higher agility levels do, in fact, develop teams that are more agile in responding to changing demands, engaging with stakeholders, creatively solving "ill-structured" problems, and learning from their experience.

Engaging in Pivotal Conversations
Pivotal conversations are direct person-to-person interactions that have a significant impact on project outcomes. When engaged in these conversations, Experts either strongly assert their own opinions or withhold their views in an attempt to avoid conflict. They may also swing back and forth between these two stances. Regardless of their style, they are inclined to believe that difficult conversations will not go well. Partly for this reason, they're less likely than Achievers or Catalysts to give or request feedback.

Achievers usually develop an interpersonal style that is primarily assertive or accommodative. However, assertive Achievers usually work some accommodative elements into their style, and vice versa. Whatever their style, Achievers will often accept or even initiate feedback, as long as they feel

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