Why can’t you train leaders to be agile?

by Alan Hosking: Publisher of HR Future, South Africa's human strategy magazine, and a Leadership Renewal Coach for senior executives.
Despite much money having been spent on training programmes to turn leaders and business professionals into more agile people, there has not been much to show for that money. Until you realise why this is so, you’re going to keep throwing good money away in the hope that your people will become agile.

Here’s the key: agility, contrary to what many self-styled experts say, is not a skill. It’s a quality. You can train people to learn a skill but you can’t train people to learn a quality. Qualities are the result and expression of the state of being of a person, and that state of being changes as we age. We therefore naturally manifest different qualities at different stages and ages as we journey through life and through our careers.

If you want to see natural agility in action, take a look at a bunch of six-year-olds. They accept situations, adapt to them, learn fast and bounce back from setbacks as a matter of course, without even thinking about it.

What makes a major contribution to their agility? Their youthfulness – their brains have not yet set in concrete. That process is still a couple of decades away.

Although they are not aware of it, executives and business leaders who have allowed themselves to prematurely or even simply naturally age are highly likely to have brains set in concrete and, no matter how much training you give them, they won’t become agile simply because they are unable to.

What you have to deal with is the concrete in their brains.

So, it’s not going to help trying to teach seasoned executives in their 40s, 50s and 60s what agility is, give them 10 good reasons why they must be agile, then expect them to suddenly be agile. While that concrete in their brains remains firmly set, nothing will happen.

The way that concrete is broken up and removed is by “down-ageing”, which involves taking them through a process that reverses many of the conditions that have developed as a result of the natural ageing process.

Everybody knows that people become less flexible (both physically and mentally!) and resistant to change as they age. But, by reversing and slowing down the ageing process, people can acquire the qualities of youthfulness such as agility and resilience once again.

It’s not about getting people to act like they’re 20 years old again. When the mental concrete is dissolved, they acquire a sense of “agelessness” that enables them to demonstrate a mental agility that is completely unrelated to their chronological age.

Executives and business leaders wanting to become agile and resilient therefore need to learn how to manage their age. That involves learning how to proactively manage your physical, mental and emotional ageing, as well as other dimensions of the ageing process.

The benefits of managing your age are not confined to agility and resilience. They include better strategic thinking and implementation, enhanced relevance, innovation, performance and productivity, and more effective collaboration and engagement across all four generations in the workplace.

Now who wouldn’t want executives and team leaders like that?

Age management is not a “touchy feely”, feel good exercise. It’s a business imperative for any leader wishing to stay relevant and on their game as they mature through the different phases of their career. When you lose your relevance, no-one has need for you or your skills. When that happens, it’s game over – once people start to regard you as irrelevant, it’s only a question of time before you’re side lined for promotion, not included in future plans, worked out of your position and your company before you’re ready to leave. As with many things, prevention is better than cure, so don’t wait until it’s too late.

Useful resources:
HR Future
HR Future is South Africa's only independent, most forward thinking human resource magazine with the richest content wealth of HR related issues on the continent of Africa to help executives recruit, manage, train, reward and retain the best talent.
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