Definitions of agility abound in business writing and other literature. One definition I found helpful was that agility is the ability to take wise, effective action amid complex, rapidly changing conditions (Joiner, Josephs, 2007).
My definition of agility is drawn from years of coaching practice and from the success stories of the multinational clients and organizations with whom I have worked. From these experiences, I have concluded that:
Agility is about the ability to flexibly navigate uncertainties and complexities while maintaining a sense of ease and authenticity.
It involves changing while not losing one’s bearings, being rooted while spreading out, remaining true to one’s self while adapting to new circumstances. Agility is a mindset, the way one thinks. We do not become agile by following frameworks, models or protocols.
Agility is a critical leadership mindset to develop, and indeed to embrace, in our lives and careers. After all, leadership is often exercised in complicated, seemingly contradictory circumstances, and in ever-shifting contexts.
Change is difficult and often paradoxical
I was an educator — had been for over a decade — when I discovered my love for coaching. I had always been an advocate of lifelong learning and leadership development as an educator, but my life took a turn when I attended a world-class leadership conference one day in August of 2012. In a hall filled with 800 other people, I sat transfixed as Dr John Maxwell’s voice filled the room. Something magical happened. I felt as if I was the only person in the hall. Leaning in on his every word, I drank in his message about living my life to fulfill a purpose and a mission. A dream took hold of me that day. I would become a renowned professional coach!
Five years into coaching, I tasted a little of the life of which I had dreamed. But I kept at bay the notion of starting a business as I clung to the stability that a regular job offered. I am grateful for friends who, in the early days of my coaching practice, spared precious time to give me hours of practice. My hard work and their ‘sacrifice’ paid off as my coaching skills rapidly improved. In hindsight, this was perhaps the greatest factor for my success as a professional coach. I spent a considerable amount of time acquiring broad knowledge on psychology, business, organizational expertise and honing my skills in coaching using the competency model by the Executive Coaching Forum (2008).
After those initial years of intensive practice, I was propelled to the next level when I was engaged to coach the senior leadership of the United Nations. All these transformations took place while I remained cocooned in the safety of my full-time job as an educator. But all the while, thoughts of running my own coaching practice continued to play in my mind, especially with each successive heart-lifting testimonial from clients all over the world, detailing how my coaching had catalyzed immense growth in their careers. I remember one person especially, a country director of an office in Southeast Asia. After my first session with her, a long gap ensued. In the silence, self-doubt began to assail me. Had she disengaged from me because of poor chemistry between us? Was I lacking in my skills?
My fears vanished when she reconnected to complete the coaching engagement. She revealed that our first session together was pivotal for her and gave her the strength to pull through a very difficult transition. This validation egged me closer to the precipice of starting my own coaching practice. But doubt whispered: “No, it’s too risky… How will I pay the bills if my income is unstable? … It’s impossible. How will people know of me amongst the sea of good coaches out there?”
As you read this, you can probably see that I was trapped by my need for security. The longer I stayed in my secure and stable job, the more difficult it was to make the change. At the same time, the desire to make my dream a reality burned stronger. The pressure of two opposing forces clashed and tugged against each other, pulling me in opposite directions. Before me lay two paths: leave the job security and plunge headlong into the dream of becoming a professional coach, or cling to job security and give up my dream of coaching full-time and connecting with inspiring world leaders. My heart was calling out, “Dare to pursue your dream! Throw caution to the wind!” But my head said, “Stay safe! Don’t take risks!” To move on and create the life I had envisioned for myself, I had to silence this internal war. I needed to resolve this paradox of ‘being bold’ versus ‘being safe’. I had to identify what changes I was willing to make and start taking action to bring me closer to the career of my dreams. To change, I had to morph and be agile, to think, feel and act differently. Does my story resonate with you?
In which area of your life do you long for change?