Lake Forest Leadership Model: Leaders Need Agility to Win the Race

Carrie Buchwald

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Slow and steady? Fast and frenzied?

It’s neither. The winner of the race is alert and agile.

Lake Forest Graduate School of Management (LFGSM) has been developing leaders for more than 70 years through our graduate business degree programs and Corporate Learning Solutions (CLS). In that time, the pace of business has quickened. It’s become more uncertain, complex, global and ambiguous. As a result, agility has never been more important.

We’re not the only ones to recognize the importance of agility. Chief Executive Magazine has named “adaptability to change” the number-one leadership skill for several years running.

Economic fluctuations, technology breakthroughs, constant emergence of competitive new businesses – all of these factors, times a thousand, make agility a key differentiator for leaders. Knee-jerk reactions won’t work, nor will “business as usual.” As a business leader, you need to balance long- and short-term goals, quickly analyze situations, and draw on your knowledge and experience to come up with a solution, evolve with change.

It takes time, education and experience to develop the agility that businesses need. Agility is not a single competency. Being agile requires a combination of skills and conscious actions. You might have some of these qualities naturally, and others you may need to work to develop:

  • Agile leaders embrace uncertainty. While many people resist change, agile leaders expect it, move towards it, and even see it as an opportunity. Say a new competitor arrives on the scene. Instead of trying to ignore it or fall into defensive mode, someone who embraces uncertainty sees this as an opportunity to gain more insights about consumer preferences and make changes to their own business. They’re not afraid to drive change even amid uncertainty.
  • They see the big picture. An airline in need of additional revenue streams may decide to charge people for baggage, but is the solution worth the long-term costs? People may try to stuff everything they can into carry-ons, making security lines longer and lengthening passenger loading times. Other customers might move to a different carrier that does not charge for baggage. Agile leaders can see several moves ahead and they take into account how a decision will affect the overall business both in the present and in the future.
  • They think critically and creatively. Agile leaders don’t just depend on one way to solve problems. They keep an open mind and try multiple approaches. They examine issues through the lens of different people and industries. They question the status quo.
  • They are self-aware and they self-regulate. Being aware of your own limitations is essential to achieving true agility. In Aesop’s race between the tortoise and the hare, the tortoise understood his limits and didn’t try to outrun the rabbit. Agile leaders know their strengths and weaknesses. They use this knowledge to make mindful choices and empower others to succeed in areas they themselves are not as skilled.
  • They communicate effectively and build relationships. Agile leaders know that people are the engines of organizations and there are always multiple stakeholders. They are able to clearly articulate needs and expectations as well as engage and inspire others. They bring together people with diverse backgrounds to open up possibilities and achieve success.

Take some time to evaluate your own agility. Start by thinking about how you deal with change. If you thrive on excitement and work at a fast pace, make sure you slow down from time to time and look at the big picture. If you tend to avoid change, find low-stakes opportunities to practice making decisions and taking action.

You can also learn from leaders and organizations that you admire. Lake Forest is partnering with Crain’s Chicago Business for a new program called Crain’s ExecEdge. The six-month program focuses on developing you – with personal assessments, group coaching and collaborative action projects. You’ll meet and learn from agile business leaders and explore how to enhance your own skills. Learn more about this executive leadership development program.

Agility will define the next generation of leaders. Developing an agile mindset will make you valuable to organizations and determine your ability to evolve throughout your career. You will be able to apply your skills to new situations, fit into many roles and lead a range of teams.

Organizations that merely plod forward or blindly forge ahead without a strategy in place are not going to win customers, minds and wallets. The agile leaders running agile businesses are the ones who will clearly win the race.

Carrie BuchwaldCarrie Buchwald is the Vice President of Corporate Learning Solutions at Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. As a member of the Leadership Team at LFGSM, Carrie leads the team that supports the corporate and organizational channel offering flexible and customized learning with measurable business impact. Contact Carrie at to learn more about developing leaders with LFGSM.


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