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Brain circuits

Four ways to be an agile leader in a disruptive environment

Published 13 July 2021 in Brain circuits • 2 min read

Disruption in a variety of forms has shot through the economy over the past few years and shows little sign of slowing down. At IMD’s Global Center for Digital Business Transformation we studied the leaders of these transformations and the qualities they needed to succeed. Our research found that effective leaders in environments characterized by significant disruption shared some common characteristics, and labeled them as agile leaders

Four characteristics of agile leaders

  1. Humble: They acknowledge that they can’t know everything needed to make a decision in fast-changing, unpredictable environments and accept feedback from those who do, no matter where they sit in the organizational hierarchy.
  2. Adaptable: They accept that change is constant and that changing their minds based on new information is a strength rather than a weakness.
  3. Visionary: They have a clear sense of long-term direction, even in the face of short-term uncertainty.
  4. Engaged: They have a willingness to listen, interact, and communicate with internal and external stakeholders, combined with an interest and curiosity in emerging trends.

In addition to having these characteristic, agile leaders tended to exhibit the following behaviors.

Three behaviors of successful leaders in disruptive environments

  1. They are hyperaware: They are constantly scanning internal and external environments for opportunities and threats.
  2. They make informed decisions: They make use of data and information to make evidence-based decisions.
  3. They execute at speed: They move quickly from decisions to action, valuing speed over perfection.

Agile leaders who rank highly on these competencies and behaviors tend to significantly out-perform other leaders on measures such as work engagement and leadership effectiveness in highly uncertain environments. So, ask yourself: are you displaying these behaviors on a regular basis? If not, what do you need to work on to become more of an agile leader?


Michael Wade - IMD Professor

Michael R. Wade

Professor of Innovation and Strategy at IMD

Michael R Wade holds the Cisco Chair in Digital Business Transformation and is Director of IMD’s Global Center for Digital Business Transformation. He directs a number of open programs such as Leading Digital Business Transformation, Digital Transformation for Boards, Leading Digital Execution, and the Digital Transformation Sprint. He has written ten books, hundreds of articles, and hosts a popular management podcast. In 2021, he was inducted into the Swiss Digital Shapers Hall of Fame.


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