For many leaders who hope to achieve greatness, an important question is – to be authentic or to be agile. To trainers and coaches, this could be a piece of jargon, but for many leaders these are mutually exclusive aspects of leadership.
Authentic leadership builds on self-concepts of leaders and humility which promotes trust, relationships and empowerment of followers.
Adaptable or agile leadership builds on the roles leaders need to play in multiple contexts. In doing so, agile leadership is role-based, adaptable, and tactile in responding to environmental pressures.
Choosing between authenticity and agility
Often, it is believed that a leader must choose between authenticity and agility. While authentic leaders are true to themselves in principle, agile leaders are true to the situation or context. How can the two be reconciled?
In reality, both are highly transformational in nature, and have a similar impact on their followers. They may have more similarities than differences. For example, authentic leaders provide autonomy and share power for individual empowerment, while agile leaders do so due to the complexity and the much- needed speed of response. Authentic leaders use coaching style as a means to develop their people because each individual is seen as different and unique. Agile leaders do the same because more directive approaches do not work in an agile organisation or a turbulent environment. While both approach leadership differently, they have a similar impact on the organisation and people around them. So, can an agile leader be authentic? Most certainly, yes.
True meanings emerge in practice
Agile leaders are often worried that individuality may appear as the resistance to adapt. Similarly, authentic leaders worry that followers who adapt continuously to play different roles may not be doing justice to their true selves. Authentic-agile leaders, however, understand that in practice, these worries are misplaced. Authenticity helps leaders acknowledge the pain of adaptability and support people through the flux. Agility helps leaders identify the need to do things differently, rather than being different people.
Authenticity is about being in harmony with one’s own self-concept, while agility is about doing things to be in harmony with the demands of the environment. They can both co-exist; in fact, they build on each other, creating a sustainable competitive advantage. Authenticity helps people with different mindsets feel included and participate in creating innovative solutions that promote agility. Agility helps individuals perform better in challenging environments, thus creating a sense of competence and higher achievement.
Harmonizing agility and authenticity: the yin and yang of leadership
How can leaders learn to exercise both the styles? They must start with self-awareness. MBTI®’s 16 Types are great tools for identifying individuality as well as realizing the need for flexing one’s natural styles. However, the philosophy integrated within the MBTI® way of developing leadership may seem like a paradox; it’s about identifying one’s natural style, and also learning to flex it in situations that demand different ways of doing things. With authenticity, agility doesn’t seem threatening. With agility, authenticity doesn’t become an excuse for status quo. Both styles complement each other and build foundations for leaders who hope to be transformational for their people and organisations.
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