Leaders Need Agility, Not Flexibility

February 13, 2004 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - It isn't enough anymore for a corporate leader to respond to change as it comes through the doorway; being truly effective as an executive means anticipating change before it rears its ugly head, a new survey finds.

When asked to choose between two behaviors that represent the most critical leadership skills for their organizations, nearly nine in 10 (89%) of respondents favored an agile leader who anticipates change over a flexible head of the organization who can respond to change, according to the poll by HR consultant Lee Hecht Harrison.

“In today’s business climate, leaders must be agile enough to anticipate future trends and patterns in their business and know how to shift quickly when they reach a point of diminishing returns,” said Andrea Huff, executive vice president and managing director of Leadership Development/Coaching for Lee Hecht Harrison, in a statement.

Apparently viewed as being too passive, executive flexibility tied with “monitor operations and performance” as the least consequential trait (11%) of the seven choices offered. Those involved in the survey said they would look for a leader who could influence others to assume leadership in their roles (72%) and who could deliver measurable business results (70%).

The survey also asked participants to identify ways leaders can be more agile. Of six choices given, the top three were:

  • Listen in a more focused way to what my customers and employees are telling me (73%)
  • Monitor the external environment to identify threats and opportunities (61%)
  • Seek out feedback to drive stronger business results. (55%)

The survey of more than 130 senior business executives and HR professionals at Fortune 500 companies was conducted in January 2004. For more information, go to www.LHH.com .