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Seven secrets of agile leadership

Some companies thrive whatever the challenge. So what’s the secret to their leadership success?

In the face of increasingly fast-paced change, leaders all over the world are bringing agility and insight to their roles.

Seven secrets of agile leadership

While most employees are disengaged – 86 per cent according to Gallup research – there is a group of leaders who are bucking that trend. Here’s what you can learn from them:

1. Stand for short, sharp meetings

A 12-minute standing meeting, called To The Point, is the most important meeting at The Physio Company, says founder and CEO Tristan White. Starting at 10:05 and finishing at 10:17am, it keeps the seven participants focussed. “Being late or unprepared is not an option,” writes White on his blog, Culture is Everything.

2. Manage projects visually

Post-it notes trump online project management tools like Gantt charts and email in the agile world. David Rumsey, Tourism Australia’s chief information officer, uses wall charts to track work visually, dividing tasks into three columns: To Do, In Progress, Done. This streamlines tracking across projects and departments.



3. Fail fast

Author and management expert Tom Peters advises leaders to live by his motto: Test fast, fail fast, adjust fast. Agile leaders create iterations of projects, test them with customers, then change them.Jo Burston, founder of Job Capital and Rare Birds, told SmartCompany she too lives by this motto and has no fear of failure because mistakes are the best teachers.

4. Abolish performance reviews

When health insurance company Cigna announced the abolition of performance ratings there was a standing ovation among the company’s HR managers. This is just one example of how neuroscience is transforming our understanding of leadership; in particular, leaders’ use of coaching to influence knowledge workers, who do not respond well to command-and-control-style leadership.

5. Promote women

When companies promote women, they perform better. Still, few leaders take the message to heart. One who did is Gail Kelly, CEO of Westpac bank until last year. In 2010, Kelly committed to a target of having women in 40 per cent of the senior management roles at Westpac by 2014; she achieved that goal two years ahead of time.

6. Tear down walls

Collaboration means communication. Walls don’t help, says Tim Thurman, the Australian Securities Exchange CIO. He removed all the offices on the technology floors of the ASX to foster communication. When big IT projects are underway, he sends his technology staff to work in the part of the ASX business that will be affected.

7. Fight for purpose

Today, it is companies that focus on a higher purpose than profit that engage their workforce and outperform their competitors. Judith Downes, chair of Bank Australia, reported a 2014 after-tax profit of $25.5 million for her bank, which is owned by customers. Describing itself as a responsible bank, it invests up to 4 per cent of profits through the Bank Australia Impact Fund, stays carbon neutral through the Bank Australia Conservation Reserve, and creates and keeps jobs in Australia.

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