Agile. Nimble. Flexible.
The opposite of rigid and fixed.
I think of a morning last October when my colleague Suzanne Daigle and I sat at Charles de Gaulle airport, waiting to fly home to the US after a week in Belgrade. We had been guests at an Agile conference, submerged in the world of Agile project management and Scrum. Iterative project practices, smart technology, but my own association with the word agile is physical agility. It’s a swimmer’s view. The way I slice through water when I swim. The ease with which my body moves. The way I flow with the current.
From the moment Suzanne and I had arrived at the airport, chaos. An overbooked flight. Mechanical failure. Delayed departure. Evasive public announcements. And the eventual cancellation of the flight.
I won’t bore you with a war story – but I found myself considering its essential ingredients as they enveloped me. Moment-by-moment changes. Increasing uncertainty. Bubbles of emotion. Eventual complete change of plans. More uncertainty. More emotion.
A classic narrative arc. I was in the midst of an agile situation.
The situation was relatively simple as far as agility goes. The bulk of the decisions were made for me. I can change my response to a sudden change in circumstances but I cannot change the circumstance itself. The circumstance is right in my face. Detailed observation or keen insight are not required.
I am responsible for my attitude about what unfolds – that’s the mental part – and my emotions. These two are intertwined.
There are many more situations where the need to adapt quickly isn’t so clear-cut. When things kinda sorta work but never excel, never become great. When mediocrity is the standard we have become used to, when complaining about the way we do things is the norm but nothing is bad enough to scream change now.
What does personal agility look like in the face of that? How do I stay agile when nobody demands that I be more agile? Here are a few personal guide-posts to help sharpen your own everyday agility:
- I notice when something isn’t working. I stay present. I stay aware of the emotions that kick in. Instead of stuffing my emotions, I consider what may be causing them. Considering my emotions will lead me to indicators about my own thinking (internal clues) or relationships with collaborators (external clues) that may require adjustment.
- I notice when pressure is mounting. I choose to stay calm under pressure. More importantly, I do not ignore pressure. I have a healthy pressure-meter that can distinguish between necessary pressure and debilitating pressure. I do not succumb to prolonged debilitating pressure. I know the difference between pushing through and changing a course of action because what I’m doing is not working.
- I seek help. I do so quickly. I do not hide when the going gets tough. I approach professional challenges with a sense of healthy curiosity. Most importantly, I view seeking help as a sign of strength. I seek help freely and am mindful of whose insights may be most pertinent when an adjustment in process or strategy seems necessary.
- I invite multiple viewpoints. I understand that multiple inputs will produce a better new course of action. I am not afraid of the complexity that may be invoked by multiple viewpoints. I know that embracing complexity will lead to more fully considered next steps. More fully considered steps accelerate the likeliness of success.
- I act quickly. I understand that changing course and adapting quickly to changing circumstances is the only way to release forward-moving energy and create momentum. This may be the most crucial of these 5 points. I don’t get locked into the jail of this is what I had planned or this is how it should be. Taking swift action is my friend. I welcome this friendship.
There are many ways to define illuminated leadership. Mental and emotional agility hang at its very core. Great thing is, we get to use this agility every day. Each encounter at work, at the supermarket, at the airport, in our personal relationships is an opportunity to practice agility.
Yes, I have a swimmer’s mind. I love the sense of forward motion that I experience in water. It feels so very good. An agile mind helps me to experience this sensation in all other aspects of my life.
So, stay agile. Practice diligently, and practice with an open mind. Notice how wrong effort will start to disappear.
How liberating that is.