A Futurist Sees Leadership Agility In Her Crystal Ball

Originally published at Forbes.com

I got to know and respect, Marti Konstant, a workplace futurist, a few years ago when she contacted me to be a subject in research she was conducting. After I poured my heart out to her in the interview, I told her she should consider charging for the experience because it was so cathartic and felt like business therapy.  Ironically, she hired me to be her business coach instead, and it was my honor to cheer her on as she completed the Agile Careerist Project.

In this project, she masterfully interviewed 120 people on their career trajectories and then, developed how agile principles could be applied to individual career management. The process resulted in a series of articles, a career agility model, a clear definition of career agility and her brilliant book, Activate Your Agile Career.  She now works with leaders to cultivate happy employees and create more profits through workforce agility. It was a pleasure to catch up with her in this recent interview.

What is your work background?

My career path includes design, marketing, and career development. Agility guided my path and my “future of work” focus. While working as a marketing executive at growth stage tech companies, I collaborated with agile software development teams to develop and launch mobile device security software. Recognizing the potential of agility applied to multiple areas, I also joined a team of global marketers to apply agile methods to marketing, innovating a highly responsive way to manage the marketing function.

On a flight back from the planning meeting with global marketers, I asked myself the question, “Can this approach be applied to career development?” The answer became the premise of my book.

Leadership experience

My growth stage company leadership experience and development include setting the marketing strategy, creating product demand in global markets, and supporting the company through a desired acquisition or IPO.

While managing people, I viewed my role as providing tools, training, inspiration, and removing senseless roadblocks on an individual basis. I also managed numerous external vendor teams, including communication partners in the US, Europe, and China. Learning how to lead teams who don’t report to you is truly a valuable skill, one that will increase in value as the percentage of the contingent workforce continues to rise.

The big shift

The shift from marketer to workplace futurist happened as I paralleled my research project on the topic of agility with my full-time work schedule. As one of my core principles suggest, pursuing activities in parallel creates pathways for creative thought, extra income, or future job opportunities. My side project turned into my next venture.

What is leadership agility?

Leadership agility is a vital response to issues in a time of rapid change. It is defined as the ability to assess situations based on micro and macro business views, respond to change and to make smart and effective decisions. It requires a diverse set of skills aimed at proactive support of an organization’s success and continued existence like keen self-awareness, the ability to make a decision when facing uncertainty, a persistent thirst for learning, and resistance to the status quo.

Why is it important for the future of leadership?

Leadership agility is evident and necessary when anticipating and acting on change. Grounded in action, it emphasizes the preservation of organizations and the value of the individual contribution. The people who lead organizations must proactively anticipate change and adapt effectively to avoid becoming irrelevant.

Can you give me three examples of when to use leadership agility?

  1. In a time of low unemployment as it is today, when competition for the best available talent is fierce, smart leaders will focus on the continued development of valued contributors already on staff.
  2. Given that mass extinction of a significant portion of well-established companies is predicted in fewer than ten years, an organization must commit to agile transformation or die.
  3. When rapid or disruptive innovation and competitive advantage are required, agile leaders will facilitate teamwork with collaborative workspaces, matching people to projects vs. job roles.

What part does compassion play in leadership agility? 

Practicing compassion is critical in earning trust and engendering confidence during uncertain times. While making tough decisions, agile leaders need to step back and fully reflect on the current business climate and consider the multiple impacts on people and the planet. These compassionate leaders consistently communicate the mission and vision of the company to cultivate respect and a positive work environment.  This provides inclusivity and encourages confidence across the organization.

Who is a model of compassionate leadership you admire? 

Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly responds to market needs in an agile and compassionate manner. Senior leadership empowers employees to make decisions that cater to customer happiness. I recently viewed a video of a group of Indiana String Academy University students who were invited by a flight attendant to entertain the passengers while standing in the aisle at 35,000 feet. This happy performance is an excellent example of all that is right with compassionate leadership.

How do you personally balance compassion and self-compassion as a leader?

This one takes a great deal of intention and is difficult for me. It is easier for me to extend compassion to others than it is to myself. Yet, I am learning. A leader needs to demonstrate this by example. I recently stopped using the word “busy” in response to “how are you?” Rather, I say something like “I have learned so much this week and enjoyed collaborating with this talented team.” I also make a point of sharing things other than my work with colleagues and friends.

What’s next for you?

To better understand how to help leaders cultivate happy profitable employees, I launched the Happy Profitable Employees Project. The project will include research and content to help organizations and the people who work there, flourish, while adapting to change. And my current side project is working on an education curriculum that prepares our future workforce and leadership on the benefits of an agile mindset. A few universities are already using Activate Your Agile Career as a textbook and learning module to prepare their students for the future of work.

Thanks, Marti and I look forward to cheering you on as you share your insights that are preparing us all to be more resilient careerists and compassionate leaders as the world of work continues to spin and change.