RSM Australia

Agile Leadership - What it is and the role state management plays | Part 1

A few years ago ‘bespoke’ was the buzzword. Last year it was ‘ramp up’. Nowadays agile is quite the term, but as always with such words, it has a very fuzzy meaning.

One thing is certain - this paper is not about the Agile Movement (an alternative to project management), software development, a management consulting methodology or the SCRUM!

These articles look at what agile leadership is, where it comes from, the role state and the unconscious play. There are many ways to assist a person or corporation to become more agile, so we’ll take a look at three and in conclusion discuss how personal change flows from leadership into corporate agility. 

Early in 2017 the McKinsey Quarterly ran an article on the bank ING and how agile it had been in responding to market change. Bart Schlatmann, COO of ING Netherlands was quoted as saying: 

“Agility means flexibility and the ability of an organisation to rapidly adapt and steer itself in a new direction… It’s about empowering people; building stronger, more resilient professionals.” 

That’s a really interesting turn of logic: stronger, resilient and empowered people undergird flexibility, adaptation and agility. Compare Bart’s statement to the definition of agility. Agility is the ability to move quickly and easily; to adapt, and remain strong and resilient through change. Which is exactly what Bart said. However the foundations of personal resilience, strength and speed are not uncovered in the definition. Go deeper and you will have to explore both state management (so that it is optimal to your task) and coherence between the various factions of the organisation so that it can accomplish rapid change. Personally speaking this means coherence between the conscious and the unconscious processes.

Visually, we can show it this way.


Figure 1: The Agility Pyramid, R Holmes, 2016


What we want is agility, but it starts with managing our state. What is state? It is the particular condition that someone (or a group of people) is in at a specific time. State changes from moment to moment, and may or may not be producing agility. It is also a rather complex beast, made up of physical, mental and biochemical elements… which produce physical, mental and biochemical responses in an endless series of feed-forward and feed-back loops. 

For example, when you are happy (an emotion word we use to describe the state created by endorphins, serotonin and other neurochemistry) we smile, whistle and walk with a bounce in our step. Conversely, if we smile, whistle and walk with a bounce in our step we change our state, moving toward ‘happy’. Once we get our head around how malleable state is, we can begin to find choice about it.

Ian Snape from the Neurocoaching Institute observes that “When we have choice about our state, we have the best possible opportunity to achieve our outcomes.”  The outcome in this case is agility, and we wish to find a state that produces flexibility, strength and resilience. For example, we may wish to enhance our company’s agility in responding to increasing complexity in customer orders. In order to create less stress (more resilience) and quicker order-to-send times (speed) we might increase an employee’s autonomy to make choices. Autonomy is a state. 

The results are in from a live commercial experiment in agility through autonomy… SouthWest airlines past President Colleen Barrett famously empowered their flight attendants to make any decision, so long as it did not degrade the customer experience. That’s agility for you.

Let’s make this a bit more personal. Let’s say we have a staff member who cannot “do confrontation.” During confrontation he is neither agile, fast thinking or resilient. He goes into a rather unresourceful state manifested in nervousness, laughing, shaking and sickness.

How do we give him control (strength) and mental perspicacity (agility) back?

There are at least three models we can use to help him:

  • The jump to state model
  • Framing and reframing beliefs
  • Three inputs model

At RSM we can help assist you or your business to be more agile.

If you would like to speak to RSM about how we can help, please contact your local office today!

Jump to state model and reframing your beliefs

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