#65 - Developing Your Leadership Agility Fitness in a VUCA World - Nick Horney

 

 

“The best leaders are those that get things done through other people."

Nick Horney is the author of “VUCA Masters” and founder of Agility Consulting. In this episode, Nick shared his innovations in leadership agility that include AGILE Model® and Leadership Agility Fitness, which are the cornerstones for becoming inspiring leaders in the current VUCA world, i.e. the VUCA Masters. Nick also shared how we can extend his leadership agility concepts to improve organizational behavior, culture, and mindset in order to reach organizational agility. Towards the end, Nick shared some inspiring leadership lessons from his 23 years of experience serving the US Navy Special Operations, describing the true characteristic and hallmark of the best leaders.  

Listen out for:

  • Career Journey - [00:05:48]
  • AGILE Model® - [00:08:04]
  • VUCA - [00:13:20]
  • Leadership Agility Fitness - [00:19:46]
  • Leadership Self-Agility Assessment - [00:24:14]
  • VUCA Masters - [00:29:30]
  • Leadership Agility and Agile - [00:32:10]
  • Organizational Behavior - [00:34:26]
  • Leadership Lessons From the Military - [00:40:35]
  • 3 Tech Lead Wisdom - [00:43:55]

_____

Nick Horney’s Bio
Dr. Nicholas Horney founded Agility Consulting in 2001 and has been recognized for innovations in organizational and leadership agility, including The AGILE Model®, VUCA Masters™, Leadership Agility Fitness™, After Action Agility™ and Talent Portfolio Agility™. His coaching, leadership agility and organizational agility management consulting experience spans over 30 years and includes the start-up and management of the Coopers & Lybrand (now Price Waterhouse Coopers) Change Management Practice. Representative clients include Turner Broadcasting, Coca-Cola, Navy SEALs, Lenovo, CIA, ARAMARK, and REI.

Dr. Horney has written four books. The most recent is VUCA Masters: Developing Leadership Agility Fitness for the New World of Work (2021).

Nick retired from the U.S. Navy (Special Operations) at the rank of Captain and has applied that experience to his work with high performance team agility. He serves as a coach for The Honor Foundation focusing on the successful transition of Navy SEALs to the business world.

Follow Nick:

Mentions & Links:

 

Our Sponsors
Are you looking for a new cool swag?
Tech Lead Journal now offers you some swags that you can purchase online. These swags are printed on-demand based on your preference, and will be delivered safely to you all over the world where shipping is available.
Check out all the cool swags available by visiting https://techleadjournal.dev/shop.
And don't forget to brag yourself once you receive any of those swags.

 

Like this episode?
Subscribe and leave us a rating & review on your favorite podcast app or feedback page.
Follow @techleadjournal on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram.
Pledge your support by becoming a patron.

 

Quotes

AGILE Model®

  • There are five major elements of the AGILE Model®.

  • The way I look at leadership is it can be at any level. It can be an executive, CEO, a C-suite leader, but it also can be at a project team level. It could be an Agile coach. So it applies there and these characteristics apply regardless of level of leadership that you have. And even as an individual contributor, you do offer leadership capabilities as well.

  • The first of those that I think is most important and a key learning that I had was the capability to anticipate change.

    • No longer do I think we have the luxury of waiting until change lands on our doorstep and is right there, and we have to react and respond immediately to that.

    • We’re not going to be able to predict everything that’s happening. But to anticipate change means we do a better job of identifying trends and patterns.

    • A great executive (once) talked about equipping his leadership team to look around the corner, look over the horizon. And so it’s all about the anticipation of change through discussions with the employees that have meetings with customers, with suppliers, etc. What’s disrupting them? What are some of the trends and patterns that are happening there? And also looking outside of your industry sector to really understand what’s happening in the world of work.

    • To what degree do we anticipate the changes in our business processes, whether it be suppliers, whether it be our employees and the work we do, how do we anticipate the changes and really prepare for that?

  • The second is generate confidence.

    • Generate confidence is not just self-confidence, but it’s also confidence in those that are key stakeholders that we work with as leaders. Those can be your employees. They could be your suppliers. They could be your business partners.

    • How do we go about engaging them, getting them involved, collaborating with them? It’s in that confidence that we have, that we are aware as employees, members of teams, etc, that we are aware of the overall strategy of the business, the direction that’s going.

  • A third one, just to finish this off is liberate thinking.

    • Liberate thinking is not about liberal thinking. It’s about as a role, as a leader, how do we create the kind of environment that encourages innovation and creative out of the box type of thinking, so that we as leaders don’t and cannot come up with all of the solutions that may be needed, that present themselves in the business world. How can we create the kind of conditions, the kind of environment that encourages those that work with us? And again, by that meaning employees, but also the peers that we work with within an organization.

VUCA

  • VUCA stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity.

  • I think now, during times of digital disruption and the speed at which things are changing, including the pandemic that we’re dealing with right now, I think if your listeners would say, “Okay, it truly has been volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous.” There will be many more disruptions that can be characterized as VUCA disruptions.

  • One of the things that I wanted to do is to really write about what are the characteristics of those leaders that really display the capability, and hence I called them VUCA Masters, to be at the peak

  • Be at the peak of Leadership Agility Fitness, when dealing with VUCA situations, whether they may be this pandemic or a future pandemic or digital disruption, cyber security issues, etc.

  • One of the ways that we really work with CEOs, the boardroom, senior level executives is around really establishing their awareness of the kind of VUCA that they’re experiencing. So the work that we do in terms of agility is first and foremost to identify what is happening in the business environment for a particular company.

  • The first thing that we do is to really look very closely, and work with an organization to assess and determine the volatility, the uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity that they’re facing. We start from the point of view that we wanted to clearly understand their VUCA, their disruptions, etc, so that they believe that we have a better understanding of their world and what’s disrupting their business.

  • And then from there, we’ll often do some form of an organizational assessment where we will apply the AGILE Model® to that, so that we can better understand this disruptive world that they’re facing. What are they doing to anticipate change? What are they doing as an organization to generate confidence, initiate action, liberate thinking and evaluate results? We want to establish a baseline measure and understand where they are and how they are dealing with this VUCA world, so that we then work with them to identify the gaps.

Leadership Agility Fitness

  • Each and every year we should be going through our annual physical with a doctor. I believe very strongly that we, as leaders, should do the same thing, at least on an annual basis, with our leadership agility, and I refer to that as Leadership Agility Fitness, and referring back to the AGILE Model® in terms of being able to assess in the role that we’re in at the time, how well do we anticipate change, how well do we generate confidence, etc.

  • We utilize something called the Leadership Agility Profile as a way to assess our measures of our Leadership Agility Fitness.

  • The reason that I argue for doing a leadership agility fitness exam like this on an annual basis, things are changing so rapidly in our world of work that it’s appropriate for us to reflect on our own context, and the context that we’re in, the job that we’re in may change. The business world may be changing so rapidly that how do I apply leadership agility and demonstrate leadership agility fitness when the world around me is changing so rapidly.

  • And therefore, putting together and keeping up to date my leadership agility fitness development plan is really important. I believe that it’s as important as any of the work that we’re doing. We need to concentrate on ourselves, and really focus in on the development that’s needed for us.

VUCA Masters

  • A VUCA Master is someone that–you think back to the AGILE Model® and think about Leadership Agility Fitness–It’s an individual that demonstrates peak Leadership Agility Fitness in all five of the categories of the AGILE Model®.

  • Our belief and our research shows there really require all five of the elements of the AGILE Model to demonstrate the kind of VUCA mastery that we’re talking about here.

  • VUCA mastery is really about the characteristics that you can aspire to. That you’re constantly seeking improvement in one or more of the five areas of the AGILE Model®.

  • The idea of being a VUCA Master is being at your peak, the peak Leadership Agility Fitness in all five of the drivers of the AGILE Model.

Leadership Agility and Agile

  • I think there’s a great deal of overlap between the two. And the overlap for me, and the focus of agility and the focus of our AGILE Model® is about human behavior. Whether Agile methodology, the focus is on Kanban, Scrum, whatever it may be, the behavior of leaders, the behavior of organizations is important.

  • Probably a distinction is we start from the position of saying, “What is the VUCA that is disrupting you as a leader?” And you, as a leader, it may have to do with the performance of your team, your project team, and maybe that is the VUCA that you’re struggling with. Each of us has some level of VUCA. There can be strategic VUCA. That’s the pandemic and digital disruption. But there can also be at an individual level. The kinds of things that are disrupting the way that work is being done.

Organizational Behavior

  • Oftentimes in our work, we talk about organizational agility. It’s a combination of people, processes, technology, etc. It’s all of those things combined that oftentimes might be also represented by organizational culture.

  • We do something called an Organizational Agility Audit. In this audit, we do an online assessment. We do interviews. We look at archival information, records of information, etc, to really identify what is the baseline of organizational agility that’s being demonstrated by this organization.

  • And we may find, as I’d mentioned earlier, big gaps between what the leadership team believes the culture is like, and what they try to describe as the culture, and what it really looks like and feels like at a frontline manager, frontline employees level.

  • What we try to do with something like that is to put in their laps data that says, “Okay, here’s what you say you do. Here is what your employees are saying you do. Is there a big difference between those?” And oftentimes there is. For agility to be effective, then we’ve got to close that gap. And usually, we’ve been very successful in creating that sense of urgency to close the gap.

  • That leader who may have demonstrated these other behaviors may need to have an executive coach. They may be extremely smart. They do have the right answer. They have the right technical answer. The problem is that they are dismissing others around them in terms of their thoughts and ideas. They always are the ones that have the right answer.

  • Part of my challenge is to work with them to say, as a leader, that one of the most important roles of you as a senior leader like this is to develop future leaders. In order to develop future leaders, you’ve got to ask them for the solutions. Not you being the one who always comes up with solutions.

  • To build confidence, you’ve got to really encourage others, and really let them come up with many of the new ideas that you want.

Leadership Lessons From the Military

  • The better leaders and the best leaders are those that really get things done through other people. That’s the key there, and I think there’s a misunderstanding that in the military, it’s always the General makes all the decisions and you, as the troops, you go out and execute those decisions. Just as in business, there is overall strategy and direction, etc. But good leaders really enable the teams to be fluid to demonstrate the kind of agility necessary at a team level.

  • Strategy only provides a high-level overview in the direction and provides maybe some boundaries of the direction you’re going in. It’s up to the team to figure out how to make things done.

  • Whether you’re a leader in business or leader in the military, to be able to create that kind of environment, prepare the teams with the right kind of training, the kind of capability to building, etc, to then get out of the way as a senior leader.

  • You’ve given them the strategy, the general direction you need to be going in, etc. Let those teams perform. Really encourage them, engage them, collaborate with them, ask questions of them. Don’t just say, okay, go do it, and I’m going to leave you completely alone. No, stay involved by asking some of the right questions and probe.

  • The best thing you can do in those executive levels is to get out of the way, prepare your teams with the right kind of equipment needed, the technology that’s needed, the training that’s needed, the human resources that are needed, and then back up and get out of the way. And then enable them and encourage them to perform.

  • It’s amazing the kind of things that they’ll come up. They’ll probably come up with solutions that you, as a leader, you never would have thought about. And in fact, that’s the mark of really good leadership. It’s when they can surprise you with those solutions that may come up with solutions that you’ve never thought of.

3 Tech Lead Wisdom

  1. Anticipate change.

    • We know we live in a world that is constantly changing and disruptive, and we can either read about it and experience it.

    • It’s critically important that we think, and we explore things outside of our daily work, and in the business that we’re in. Keep your eyes open. Research and read and listen to the trends and the patterns that are going on in the world of works, and ask the question, “How might that impact me? How might that impact our business? How might that impact the work that I’m doing?”

  2. Generate confidence.

    • It is important to have your own self-confidence, and part of creating self-confidence has to do with that annual checkup that I talked about.

    • Part of building that self-confidence is first and foremost, knowing where you are right now in terms of your Leadership Agility Fitness. It’s that self-awareness of it. As opposed to sticking your head in the sand, and just assuming that you have great Leadership Agility Fitness.

  3. Liberate thinking.

    • As I’d mentioned before, it’s not liberal thinking. It is we, as leaders, need to establish that kind of environment that says, “Okay. I need to encourage and demonstrate the kinds of behaviors that have employees and members of a work team constantly thinking about new ways that it could be done better.”

    • Create the kind of environment of continuous improvement, and they understand the strategy and the direction that you want them to go, etc. And it’s your ability to get out, coach them and mentor them along the way, which is so critical.

Transcript

[00:01:01] Episode Introduction

[00:01:01] Henry Suryawirawan: Hello to all of you, my listeners. It’s great to be back here again with another new episode of the Tech Lead Journal podcast. Thanks for being here with me today listening to this episode. If you’re new to Tech Lead Journal, I invite you to subscribe and follow the show on your podcast app and our growing social media communities on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. And if you have been regularly listening and enjoying this podcast and love the type of content that I’m producing, will you support the show by subscribing as a patron at techleadjournal.dev/patron, and support my journey to produce great episode every week.

We are currently living in a VUCA world. And it is heightened even more after the pandemic that started a couple of years ago. VUCA is a term coined by US military post-Cold War that describes the situation of constant volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. VUCA presents a new dynamics and challenges that every business and individual must be able to adapt to in order to survive and thrive.

My guest for today’s episode is Dr. Nicholas Horney, or Nick Horney for short. Nick is the author of “VUCA Masters” and the founder of Agility Consulting. His coaching, leadership agility, and organizational agility management consulting experience spans over 30 years, and that includes the startup and major clients such as Turner Broadcasting, Coca-Cola, Navy SEALs, Lenovo, CIA, ARAMARK, and REI. Nick retired from the U S Navy Special Operations at the rank of Captain, and since then has applied that experience to his work with high-performance team agility.

In this episode, Nick shared his innovations in leadership agility that include AGILE Model® and Leadership Agility Fitness, which are the cornerstones for becoming inspiring leaders in the current VUCA world. The term that Nick uses to describe those leaders who demonstrate peak leadership performance based on his framework is called VUCA Masters, the main topic of his latest book. Another thing that Nick shared in this episode is how we can extend his leadership agility concepts to improve organizational behavior, culture, and mindset in order for organizations to reach organizational agility. Towards the end, Nick shared some inspiring leadership lessons from his 23 years of experience serving the US Navy Special Operations, describing the true characteristic and hallmark of the best leaders.

I really enjoyed my conversation with Nick, learning about the VUCA world and its origination, and the leadership skills that are required to thrive in it. I also love Nick’s Leadership Agility Fitness concept, and how he compares it to our physical fitness and the need to regularly assess it, just like our routine medical checkup. And if you also find this episode useful, please share it to someone you know, who would also benefit from it. And you can also leave a rating and review on your podcast app or share some comments on the social media on what you enjoy from this episode. I always love reading your reviews and comments, and they are one of the best ways to help me spread this podcast to more people. And it is my hope that they can also benefit from this podcast. So let’s get our episode started right after our sponsor message.

[00:04:59] Introduction

[00:04:59] Henry Suryawirawan: Hey, everyone. Welcome back to another episode of the Tech Lead Journal podcast. Today I have a special guest with me. His name is Dr. Nicholas Horney. He’s the founder and principal of Agility Consulting. He founded it in 2001, and has been recognized for his agility skills, including some of the things that he founded, such as the AGILE Model®, VUCA Masters, which is one of the books that he recently published. We will be talking a lot about VUCA Masters. What it is all about? And what we can learn from it? Nick is also a US Navy retiree. I think he served there for quite some time, and is now able to transition himself from the Navy to the business world. I’m really excited to have a conversation with you, Nick. Thank you for attending this and yeah, let’s have a great conversation about leadership.

[00:05:44] Nick Horney: Henry, thank you very much. Thanks for the opportunity. I’m looking forward to it.

[00:05:48] Career Journey

[00:05:48] Henry Suryawirawan: So, Nick, in the beginning, maybe you can help to introduce yourself. Telling us more about your highlights or any turning points from your career.

[00:05:56] Nick Horney: Sure. I appreciate the opportunity to share. Career journey for me that really began when I entered the Navy after going to college. I thought that I would be in the Navy and do something a little bit different, a little bit unique, and moved into what’s referred to as Special Operations, which includes Navy SEALs, deep diving, etc. So my entire career, which was 23 years in the Navy, was spent basically underwater. I spent a lot of time in the water, and diving in deep water, and using the old hardhat outfit. Some may remember, you know, the big helmet that you screw on and you sink basically to the bottom. But the reason that I share that aspect of my career is that I often reflect back on that in terms of what was unique and different? What really stood out in terms of, even though we weren’t using terms of agility back in those days, what were those unique qualities? Those team qualities that really reflected the best of high-performing teams. I often will pull some of that forward in the work that I do, books that I write, other information that I do.

And then along the way, when I got out of the Navy, I went on back to school, got a PhD in organizational psychology, which really the application of psychology to the business world. Worked with large companies like Pepsi, Nestle, mostly consumer products. And then I began my consulting journey. The first firm that I started as a consultant was later acquired by what was known as Coopers & Lybrand, which is now PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the largest consulting firms in the world. I headed up the change management practice. Later, I was recruited away by a well-known leadership development and research firm called The Center for Creative Leadership. Really got involved in leadership development, leadership research, etc. So I’ve really blended in my career, my background, my experience, my education and the primary focus around leadership and leadership development to really build out the work that I do in terms of leadership agility.

[00:08:04] AGILE Model

[00:08:04] Henry Suryawirawan: Thanks for sharing snapshot of your career. So, one thing that I always find fascinating, from the ex-military or ex-Navy SEALs, I think maybe one of it is quite popular these days for motivational self-help, which is Jocko Willink, and maybe a few others that went from Navy to the business world. So maybe from yourself, what do you think are some of your leadership lessons that you learned from the military? In this case, US Navy Special Operations. What are those lessons that you think are very applicable to the business world these days?

[00:08:33] Nick Horney: Well, I appreciate that question because it’s interesting. I continued doing some work with current Navy SEALs that are transitioning into their next careers. It’s a non-profit organization called the Honor Foundation. In working with them, I’ve actually identified much of what I did back in the day with the Navy, and actually the core of the AGILE Model itself. So there are five major elements of the AGILE Model. I won’t discuss all of those, but I’ll share several that I think are particularly applicable, and I think apply in the business world, with Navy SEALs, etc.

The first of those is the ability, whether it’s a leader. Again, the way I look at leadership is it can be at any level. It can be an executive, CEO, a C-suite leader, but it also can be at a project team level. It could be an Agile coach. So it applies there and these characteristics apply regardless of level of leadership that you have. And even as an individual contributor, you do offer leadership capabilities as well.

So the first of those that I think is most important and a key learning that I had was the capability to anticipate change. No longer do I think we have the luxury of waiting until change lands on our doorstep and is right there, and we have to react and respond immediately to that. That still occurs. We’re not going to be able to predict everything that’s happening. But to anticipate change means we do a better job of identifying trends and patterns. A great executive, a CEO that I was coaching at one time, talked about equipping his leadership team to look around the corner, look over the horizon. And so it’s all about the anticipation of change through discussions with the employees that have meetings with customers, with suppliers, etc. What’s disrupting them? What are some of the trends and patterns that are happening there? And also looking outside of your industry sector to really understand what’s happening in the world of work. So that in fact, you get ahead of the game and you’re able to actually impact the change that’s coming at you. They may be digital disruption. It could have even been the pandemic that we’re all wrestling with now. To what degree do we anticipate the changes in our business processes, whether it be suppliers, whether it be our employees and the work we do, how do we anticipate the changes and really prepare for that?

The second is generate confidence. Generate confidence is not just self-confidence, but it’s also confidence in those that are key stakeholders that we work with as leaders. Those can be your employees. They could be your suppliers. They could be your business partners. But how do we go about engaging them, getting them involved, collaborating with them? So everything that we read or study about employee engagement is relevant in terms of generating confidence. It’s in that confidence that we have, that we are aware as employees, members of teams, etc, that we are aware of the overall strategy of the business, the direction that’s going. So that, in fact, we can actually implement and come up with creative solutions.

Maybe a third one, just to finish this off is liberate thinking. Liberate thinking is not about liberal thinking. It’s about as a role, as a leader, how do we create the kind of environment that encourages innovation and creative out of the box type of thinking? So that we as leaders don’t and cannot come up with all of the solutions that may be needed, that present themselves in the business world. How can we create the kind of conditions, the kind of environment that encourages those that work with us? And again, by that meaning employees, but also the peers that we work with within an organization. Suppliers that we have good relationships with. How can we create the kind of condition that says, “Let’s think a little bit differently about this solution, and coming up with ways to be able to accelerate that process.” So those are probably three of the most critical ones, and they really form the essence of three of the five elements that I created back in 2001, and have had utilized since that time.

[00:12:57] Henry Suryawirawan: So just to recap a little bit, this is called AGILE Model, A-G-I-L-E. Each of the letter actually stands for something. So A is anticipate change, just like what Nick mentioned. And then G is generate confidence. There’s an I, initiate action. L, liberate thinking, and E, evaluate results. So maybe later on, if we have some time, we will maybe cover the other two parts of the AGILE model.

[00:13:20] VUCA

[00:13:20] Henry Suryawirawan: But when we’re talking about all this anticipating change, right? So the disruption that is happening. The pandemic now that we are going through. All this relates to what people call VUCA. You are also just recently published a book called “VUCA Masters”. So maybe a little bit of a description. What is actually VUCA, V-U-C-A?

[00:13:37] Nick Horney: VUCA is a term that the US army created back in the 1990s. And it really deals with the kind of disruption that certainly the US army and others were really wrestling with, in terms of moving from what had been referred to as the Cold War, which was the way that wars have historically been fought. It was real clear in terms of who the enemy was, who the good guys were, etc, and the lines were drawn pretty clear about that. In a VUCA world, it’s less clear. It’s very fuzzy. Some have talked about and written about fog of the future. This is the fuzziness of what it meant to be able to fight wars as things move into the future. And so even though we’re not war fighting in the business world, sometimes it may feel like that. When we are facing the competition and they’re outmaneuvering us, and we’re trying to catch up to them. It may feel like a war, and sometimes, literally, your business depends on how successful you are.

So VUCA, the term, stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. And I thought back in 2010, I wrote my first article about leadership agility in a VUCA world. I thought it was really a compelling type of description that seemed to be a good description for the world of work, that it was very volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous. And I think now, during times of digital disruption and the speed at which things are changing, including the pandemic that we’re dealing with right now, I think if your listeners would say, okay it truly has been volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. There will be many more disruptions that can be characterized as VUCA disruptions. And so therefore, one of the things that I wanted to do is to really write about what are the characteristics of those leaders that really display the capability, and hence I called them VUCA Masters, to be at the peak. A term that I also use is Leadership Agility Fitness. Be at the peak of Leadership Agility Fitness, when dealing with VUCA situations, whether they may be this pandemic or a future pandemic or digital disruption, cyber security issues, etc. What are those kinds of capabilities to be able to survive and thrive in those kinds of conditions?

[00:16:00] Henry Suryawirawan: So thanks for explaining about VUCA, and actually it came from the US army term back in the 1990s, if I’m not wrong, when you said that. So it stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. I think these days, especially after the pandemic, we all agree that we live in the VUCA world. And even though that digital disruption has happened maybe a few years back, some people didn’t really think that we are in such a complex volatile world, then the pandemic happened and it accelerated a lot of things, be it our lifestyle, working environments and things like that.

It’s very interesting that something that is applicable from the military in the war, right? Everything is definitely ambiguous, and it’s complex as well. There are many elements, maybe some surprise as well. So how do you think that the CEOs or the C-executives in the business apply this concept from war actually to the boardroom or to the business world? So maybe you can have a little bit of explanation on that?

[00:16:56] Nick Horney: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think that has been the essence of the consulting work that I’ve done since 2001. One of the ways that we really work with CEOs, the boardroom, senior level executives is around really establishing their awareness of the kind of VUCA that they’re experiencing. So the work that we do in terms of agility is first and foremost to identify what is happening in the business environment for a particular company. So the first thing that we do is to really look very closely, and work with an organization to assess and determine the volatility, the uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity that they’re facing. Because it’s important to really kind of walk in their shoes, if you will, in terms of really clearly understanding the kind of disruptions that they’re facing. And so, hence, we can then bring agility as the solution to what that’s all about. So we begin at that point in working with CEOs and others. I think that’s one of the things that energizes them. It says that we’re paying attention to what their disruptions are. We’re not just bringing something in from the outside and saying, okay, we don’t care what is troubling you right now, here is our solution, and it works everywhere. We start from the point of view that we wanted to clearly understand their VUCA, their disruptions, etc, so that they believe that we have a better understanding of their world and what’s disrupting their business.

That’s the starting point. And then from there, we’ll often do some form of an organizational assessment where we will apply the AGILE Model to that, so that we can better understand this disruptive world that they’re facing. What are they doing to anticipate change? What are they doing as an organization to generate confidence, initiate action, liberate thinking and evaluate results? So we want to establish a baseline measure, and understand where they are and how they are dealing with this VUCA world, so that we then work with them to identify the gaps. And the gaps might be that executive management thinks that they’re doing great. They’re very agile, and they can apply all of that. But this assessment we do covers frontline employees, may cover suppliers, etc. And we identify where the gaps are. And so frontline employees may say, “No, there’s no way in the world that we’re doing a very good job of anticipating change. We keep getting surprised by our competition that we’re constantly trying to catch up.” So what we do there is, we’re trying to identify those gaps in the agility of an organization so that the CEO and his or her team can really work and initiate the transformation necessary to become more agile as an organisation.

[00:19:46] Leadership Agility Fitness

[00:19:46] Henry Suryawirawan: So I see that the importance of leadership here is really strong. And I believe that you mentioned earlier as well about leadership agility. The concept that you introduced long time back. In the book, I think I find this thing called Leadership Agility Fitness, where you use an analogy of the physical fitness with the leadership agility fitness. Maybe a little bit of explanation. How do you use this analogy from physical and also the leadership?

[00:20:11] Nick Horney: You bet. Thanks Henry for that. I appreciate you reading some of the things that I sent to you. I started introducing this concept of Leadership Agility Fitness probably 10 years ago in presentations I was doing, etc. And I felt as though there had to be a way for those that are not part of the Agile community can quickly get it and quickly understand. For example, we all more or less, go in on an annual basis for our annual physical. During the annual physical, we get blood tests, blood drawn, we’re weighed, our blood pressure is taken, etc, and then we sit down with the doctor, who then I’ll refer to as our coach. We sit down with the doctor and the doctor may say something like, okay, I see that you’re exercising regularly. That’s good. I see also that based on what you’ve shared with us, that you’re drinking a bit more wine than you should be drinking on a daily basis. Why don’t you cut back on the alcohol intake a little bit? And your meals maybe have too much red meat in them, and like to see you doing a bit more, maybe fish and chicken. Looks pretty good that you are exercising. But I see that you’re probably only sleeping about five hours a night. Why don’t you start building into your program a sleep pattern that gives you about seven or eight hours?

And so each and every year we should be going through our annual physical with a doctor. The doctor then basically is sitting down with us and saying, here are the things that are good. Here are the things that can show improvement. Start working on those for the next year when I see you again, and hopefully you focus enough on that. So that’s our annual physical that we have and feedback from our coach, the doctor. I believe very strongly that we, as leaders, should do the same thing, at least on an annual basis, with our leadership agility, and I refer to that as Leadership Agility Fitness. And again, referring back to the AGILE Model in terms of being able to assess in the role that we’re in at the time, how well do we anticipate change? How well do we generate confidence, etc? So we utilize something called the Leadership Agility Profile as a way to assess our measures, if you will, of our Leadership Agility Fitness. And at that point in time, we take a look at the results either through an executive coach or not, but we take a look at the results and we say, okay, based on these results, I’m doing a pretty good job of initiating action, and maybe evaluating results. But it looks as though I’m not as strong at anticipating change and maybe generating confidence. So I begin my journey in terms of putting together a development plan. A leadership development plan that focuses in on anticipating change and generating confidence, the things that I can do to improve in those areas.

And the reason that I argue for doing a leadership agility fitness exam like this on an annual basis, things are changing so rapidly in our world of work that it’s appropriate for us to reflect on our own context, and the context that we’re in, the job that we’re in may change. The business world may be changing so rapidly that how do I apply leadership agility and demonstrate leadership agility fitness when the world around me is changing so rapidly. And so, therefore, putting together and keeping up to date my leadership agility fitness development plan is really important. And in fact, me as a psychologist, I believe that it’s as important as any of the work that we’re doing. We need to concentrate in ourselves, and really focus in on the development that’s needed for us. And in fact, we may have just accepted a new position in a different firm, and a great opportunity to, after a little bit of time there, to assess how are we doing as a leader at that point in time? So that’s the purpose of Leadership Agility Fitness.

[00:24:14] Leadership Agility Self-Assessment

[00:24:14] Henry Suryawirawan: It’s a very interesting concept. As a leader myself, I must say that I don’t do this regularly. I don’t have a coach, so to speak the doctor that I go to every year or every quarterly or something like that. But I assess based on a certain model in this case, it’s AGILE Model, the one that you have, and see where I’m at. What can be improved of it? So I think for people who are interested in doing this kind of leadership assessment, is this something that they can only do by consulting with you? Or is this something applicable in the book that they can just do self assessment? What do you think that the options for people who want to assess where they are at?

[00:24:47] Nick Horney: Absolutely Henry. There are some, I think, some very useful options. This new book, VUCA Masters, is available via Amazon.com. It’s not just a single book. It’s a book set that has the book itself and describes a lot of this. But it also has a practitioner’s guide. So the idea would be, I’ve provided some information in the book about doing a self-assessment. And then in the book, the practitioner guide provides some resources in there about what can you do if you find that you are stronger at anticipating change, but weaker in generating confidence? There are ideas, recommendations about things that could be improved on that. In addition to that, we do have a website. You can access the website through Agility Consulting and Training, and another website, which is VUCA Masters Academy website. You can actually get a more in-depth assessment.

It is a leadership agility profile 360 assessment where you can get feedback, not only from your own self assessment of your leadership agility, but now it’s an opportunity to look at what do your peers think of your leadership agility? And the people that report to you on a project team or a department, and even your suppliers or your customers, can provide an assessment. It’s all done online. You’ll receive the report back and what you end up receiving is what’s referred to as a 360 assessment. It’s very powerful because we may self-assess ourselves in one way, and then we find that our employees, the members of project team, may see our strengths a little bit differently and our weaknesses a little bit differently. That becomes extremely valuable. Because we’re going to be applying those same kind of skill sets in different projects, and on different opportunities later on. And now is the opportunity to concentrate in on the kinds of developmental things that we can do to improve in those areas.

[00:26:44] Henry Suryawirawan: Wow. It’s interesting because I normally have a 360 peer review during the performance assessment in some of the companies that I worked with. So is this something that you can always ask your friend, your colleagues at any point in time and it’s going to be confidential as well?

[00:27:00] Nick Horney: Yes. What we do is we build into the confidentiality. We want to make sure that we have a minimum of three people in each of the categories of feedback. So if you ask for your peers to provide inputs to your leadership agility assessment, we usually ask maybe the person that is wanting this feedback, they will identify five people that are their peers, and maybe of those five, three or four of them complete the assessment. That’s kept confidential. The names are kept confidential. So that they can be honest and be truthful in terms of that. And it’s not only quantitative assessment.

There’s also an area in the assessment itself that’s qualitative. So there are statements that are provided about specific instances and examples of what behaviors are exhibited, as well as recommendations about things that could be done to improve. So all of that we maintain the confidentiality so that the report is provided directly back to the person receiving the report. We make a contract with them that is not shared with anybody else. Even if the company has paid for the assessment, we let the company know the report only goes to the individual that is receiving the report. We encourage them later on to share some of the information with their boss, maybe with human resources, whatever, as a way to indicate that they’re doing some things, and they do have a development plan. But that confidentiality is maintained with the person receiving the report.

[00:28:30] Henry Suryawirawan: Thanks for sharing how it works. I think I may find it interesting to try out myself, and for those listeners who want to assess yourself in terms of leadership, and how good or how bad you are performing as a leader, make sure to try this out. Is this something also applicable for non leaders or, like the individual contributors, so to speak? Or is it only for leaders with people under them?

[00:28:51] Nick Horney: It’s applicable. We also have something called the Individual Agility Profile, which is a very similar assessment based on the AGILE Model. They get the same type of online assessment that goes into the same characteristics of anticipating change and generating confidence. But the Individual Agility Profile assesses individual contributors. They do not have supervisory responsibility. The idea is how do you as an individual contribute and demonstrate these kind of agility characteristics, and so that’s the purpose of that. We’ve utilized that with a variety of companies as well.

[00:29:30] VUCA Masters

[00:29:30] Henry Suryawirawan: The title of the book itself is called VUCA Masters. So what kind of masters are you looking for? After they read the book, is it something that they have a certain level of agility fitness? Or is it something else? What kind of masters are they?

[00:29:42] Nick Horney: That’s a great question as well. Of course, you’ve got all kinds of great questions. But anyhow, I use the term VUCA Master to be something that might catch somebody’s attention. A VUCA Master is someone that you think back to the AGILE Model again, and think about Leadership Agility Fitness. It’s an individual that demonstrates peak Leadership Agility Fitness in all five of the categories of the AGILE Model. So, for example, you are not a VUCA master if you are extremely strong at anticipating change and generating confidence and weaker in the other three. Our belief and our research shows there really require all five of the elements of the AGILE Model to demonstrate the kind of VUCA mastery that we’re talking about here. Now we talking about VUCA in a generic sense, but again, VUCA can be the pandemic, can be digital disruption, can be the creation now of hybrid work models. It’s all of these things, and it can be in a personal life. For example, where I live on the coast of North Carolina, we get quite a few hurricanes. So how do we apply VUCA mastery to hurricanes? How do we anticipate the change of where the hurricane’s going to hit? The potential damage that it may have? How do we generate confidence with our family and friends in terms of the actions that we’re taking? So you can apply it in personal life as well.

So VUCA mastery is really about the characteristics that you can aspire to. That you’re constantly seeking improvement in one or more of the five areas of the AGILE Model. Maybe you are stronger at anticipating change, in generating confidence and initiating action, but weaker in liberating thinking and evaluate results. So then you know that there’s some work to be done. There’re constant improvement that can be done. And it depends on the context. You may shift roles. You may go to a decidedly different organization to work for, which may really require some different things of you. And so you may find that, okay, I’m finding that I’m weaker at anticipating some of the changes in this new environment, and so therefore some areas to work on in terms of that. So the idea of being a VUCA Master is just that it’s being at your peak. The peak Leadership Agility Fitness in all five of the drivers of the AGILE Model.

[00:32:10] Leadership Agility and Agile

[00:32:10] Henry Suryawirawan: So speaking about agility, I think these days, people are very familiar with Agile or the usual software methodology, Agile development. Maybe some kind of Agile flavor, like Kanban and all that. Where do you see all this synergy between the leadership agility concept that you have with the Agile methodology that is available out there?

[00:32:30] Nick Horney: Interestingly enough, I started my business in 2001. The Agile Manifesto was written, signed in 2001. I presented with some of the signers of the Agile Manifesto. Presented at Agile Alliance conferences. So I think there’s a great deal of overlap between the two. And the overlap for me, and the focus of agility and the focus of our AGILE Model is about human behavior. Whether Agile methodology, the focus is on Kanban, Scrum, whatever it may be, the behavior of leaders, the behavior of organizations is important, and clearly important in all of that. And so we’ve done the deep thinking and the deep writing and the deep research around what distinguishes those leaders that really apply leadership agility, not a technique of Agile methodology. But how do you apply leadership agility in any setting, in any instance?

Again, probably a distinction is we start from the position of saying, what is the VUCA that is disrupting you as a leader? And you, as a leader, it may have to do with the performance of your team, your project team, and maybe that is the VUCA that you’re struggling with. Each of us has some level of VUCA. There can be strategic VUCA. That’s the pandemic and digital disruption. But there can also be at an individual level. The kinds of things that are disrupting the way that work is being done. Whether it’s in a project team, whether it’s in a department, etc. So I think both can work together, and there’s a great deal of overlap. Ours is less about applying an Agile technique and an Agile methodology. Ours is much more to do with behavior, human behavior and leadership agility behavior to demonstrate during times that are very disruptive or a VUCA disrupted environment.

[00:34:26] Organizational Behavior

[00:34:26] Henry Suryawirawan: So I think one of your master skills, right? If I can say as a master skill, is that organizational behavior. So I don’t know exactly what it means by organizational behavior because I can understand human behavior, but what do you mean by organizational behavior?

[00:34:42] Nick Horney: Yeah. Oftentimes in our work, we talk about organizational agility. It’s a combination of people, processes, technology, etc. It’s all of those things combined that oftentimes it might be also represented by organizational culture. What is the culture of any organization? A way to be able to assess through our processes, the kind of agility culture that’s necessary. We do something called an Organizational Agility Audit. In this audit, we do an online assessment. We do interviews. We look at archival information, records of information, etc, to really identify what is the baseline of organizational agility that’s being demonstrated by this organization.

And we may find, as I’d mentioned earlier, big gaps between what the leadership team believes the culture is like, and what they try to describe as the culture, and what it really looks like and feels like at a frontline manager, frontline employees level. That employee may be shaking their head going, " Okay, yeah. I know that people are the most critical thing, and I know that’s stated on our website, and that we believe in teams. But the pay that we receive, the behavior that we see from our leaders does not reflect that." So that’s getting at the organizational behavior, the culture, and often referred to as mindset as well, that we want to tease out and identify so that we can start working on that. So that we get really a good, solid way of bringing that back together so that everyone can be in agreement. That is the kind of organizational agility that we want to demonstrate.

[00:36:22] Henry Suryawirawan: But I think unfortunately in my career so far, I mean, these things happen quite often, especially during change of leadership or transformation, where new leaders come in and okay, this is going to be our new culture, A, B, C, D, and whatever. And a lot of times, actually it comes from the top and it’s just words, and the behavior doesn’t actually reflect those things. What do you think can be done for those leaders, or maybe within the organization itself? So that we can actually walk the talk. So not just giving talk and try to change people in one goal, just by publishing a set of guidelines and principles on the intranet or wherever that is. But actually to really align what we mean by those values and principles to how we act in day to day.

[00:37:04] Nick Horney: Yeah. I mean, some of the good tips would include oftentimes that these leaders and boards are becoming more important all the time. Board of governors that you may have in many organizations are reflecting on what are those kind of characteristics, not just profitability. But what is able to sustain an organization along the way. So that becomes that much more important. But leaders oftentimes what we’ll find is that by reading a book like VUCA Masters, or some other books, etc, they may say, alright, this is interesting. I’ve heard a lot about agility and I’ve seen what some other companies have been doing. One of my colleagues, a CEO in this other company, is saying this agility stuff is really good. So these are two leaders out on the golf course, talking to each other about that stuff.

Really, where we come into play is often getting that opportunity to meet with a leader and his or her team and say, let us do this. Let us come in to your organization and do a briefing for your leadership team. This briefing would also include an assessment, a very preliminary assessment of a sample of your organizational members at various levels, different geographies, different departments, different project teams, etc. Let us provide that data back to you as part of the briefing, then we provide you about agility and leadership agility. Oftentimes, that is where the eyes really open wide up. We can talk about agility. We can talk about it in a generic and you get the heads nodding up and down going: Yes. Yeah. I know we do that. We’ve got a program on that. Human Resources take care of employee engagement. What we try to do with something like that is to put in their laps, really, data that says, okay, here’s what you say you do. Here is what your employees are saying you do. Is there a big difference between those, and oftentimes there is. For agility to be effective, then we’ve got to close that gap. Mr or Mrs. Leader, here’s what we need to do to close that gap. And usually, we’ve been very successful in creating that sense of urgency to close the gap.

That leader who may have demonstrated these other behaviors may need to have an executive coach. Often, I will serve as an executive coach for some of these leaders to really be able to provide to them the kinds of behaviors that they are doing. They may be extremely smart. I’ve worked with leaders in Fortune 50 companies. They do have the right answer. They have the right technical answer. The problem is that they are dismissing others around them in terms of their thoughts and ideas. They always are the ones that have the right answer. So, part of my challenge is to work with them to say, as a leader, that one of the most important roles of you as a senior leader like this is to develop future leaders. In order to develop future leaders, you’ve got to ask them for the solutions. Not you being the one who always comes up with solutions. So that begins the process of executive coaching that gets them on a plan that says, I need to be listening to my team, collaborating with them, engaging them, generating that confidence that we talk about in the AGILE Model that says, to build confidence, you’ve got to really encourage others, and really let them come up with many of the new ideas that you want.

[00:40:35] Leadership Lessons From The Military

[00:40:35] Henry Suryawirawan: So if I may bring back the experience from your military last time. In my mind, a lot of times I think we see a lot of experience from the military is that direction comes from the top, right? Like from the general or whoever that is at the top of the military and the people down the army will execute it. Is this something that is true in the military? That this is how it works? Or is this something that is more familiar to us in the business world?

[00:40:58] Nick Horney: Having served in 23 years in the business world and in the military, you’re going to get many of those leaders that are in those positions that the way that they’ve learned leadership is from someone who is more autocratic, top down. Here’s the way it’ll be done. So whether it’s a General in the army, or an Executive Vice President in business, oftentimes, people get promoted due to their technical knowledge and their technical capability. When it really comes down to it, the better leaders and the best leaders are those that really get things done through other people. That’s the key there, and I think there’s a misunderstanding that in the military, it’s always the General makes all the decisions and you, as the troops, you go out and execute those decisions. Just as in business, there is overall strategy and direction, etc. But good leaders really enable the teams to be fluid to demonstrate the kind of agility necessary at a team level.

Strategy only provides a high-level overview in the direction and provides maybe some boundaries of the direction you’re going in. It’s up to the team to figure out how to make things done. You’re closest to the business you’re able to adapt and thrive, you know, quite frankly. So it’s whether you’re a leader in business or leader in the military, to be able to create that kind of environment. Prepare the teams with the right kind of training, the kind of capability to building, etc, to then get out of the way as a senior leader. You’ve given them the strategy, the general direction you need to be going in, etc. Let those teams perform. Really encourage them, engage them, collaborate with them, ask questions of them. Don’t just say, okay, go do it, and I’m going to leave you completely alone. No, stay involved by asking some of the right questions and probe. But you’re not directing them as a General or as an Executive VP. The best thing you can do in those executive levels is to get out of the way, prepare your teams with the right kind of equipment needed, the technology that’s needed, the training that’s needed, the human resources that are needed, and then back up and get out of the way. And then enable them and encourage them to perform. And it’s amazing the kind of things that they’ll come up. They’ll probably come up with solutions that you, as a leader, you never would have thought about. And in fact, that’s the mark of really good leadership. It’s when they can surprise you with those solutions that may come up with solutions that you’ve never thought of.

[00:43:30] Henry Suryawirawan: Wow. Thanks for sharing this clarification because sometimes maybe we watch too much movies, where it’s normally it’s dictated from the top, from the General. And I liked the things when you say good leaders actually get things done through others.

[00:43:45] Nick Horney: Yes.

[00:43:45] Henry Suryawirawan: It’s not really necessary for them to actually decide everything. But actually through others. How they use their creativity or their initiative to actually get things done. So thanks for sharing that.

[00:43:55] 3 Tech Lead Wisdom

[00:43:55] Henry Suryawirawan: So Nick, it’s been a pleasure talking to you. Before we end our conversation, I always like to ask this leadership wisdom question for all my guests, which is the three leadership wisdom that if you can share with all of us to maybe learn from you so that we can also apply it in our daily leadership life.

[00:44:12] Nick Horney: That’s great. And again, I’ll go back to the AGILE Model in terms of a framework that we all can use and I’ll only take three from the AGILE Model. But I think it is important to think of the AGILE Model as a way to apply, not only in the business world but also in your daily life as well. So the first is, and I’ll go back to anticipate change. We know we live in a world that is constantly changing and disruptive, and we can either read about it, we experience it. Whether it’s a daughter that decides she’s going to marry somebody, and you’re totally surprised by that, and all the change is going to come about. Or that hurricane that I talked about earlier. Anticipate the changes coming of that, or the business world in terms of the pandemic and anticipating changes there. It’s critically important that we think, and we explore things outside of our daily work, and in the business that we’re in. Keep your eyes open. Research and read and listen to the trends and the patterns that are going on in the world of works, and ask the question, how might that impact me? How might that impact our business? How might that impact the work that I’m doing? So that’s number one.

The second is in generating confidence. It is important to have your own self-confidence, and part of creating self-confidence has to do with that annual checkup that I talked about. Part of building that self-confidence is first and foremost, knowing where you are right now in terms of your Leadership Agility Fitness. It’s that self-awareness of it. As opposed to sticking your head in the sand, and just assuming that you have great Leadership Agility Fitness. Do it now. I mean, it is never too late or too early to be able to assess your Leadership Agility Fitness, so that you can do things to continuously improve. And you discover new things all the time. You think that maybe you’re getting great feedback from your boss. But you find out by doing a Leadership Agility Profile 360 that it’s your peers that are so important for you to get work done, that they don’t believe that you’re collaborating with them the way that can and should be done. You always want to take credit for the work that’s done. You feel like you’re in a silo, and you’re the only one that can do the work. It’s through peers and through the collaboration with peers that becomes so critically important.

I would say a third area is liberate thinking. As I’d mentioned before, it’s not liberal thinking. It is we, as leaders, need to establish that kind of environment that says, “Okay. I need to encourage and demonstrate the kinds of behaviors that have employees and members of a work team constantly thinking about new ways that it could be done better.” I mean, nothing is better than to have someone who’s been maybe doing a job a certain way for the past five years. I’ve been encouraging and working with the whole team so that person comes in the next day and says, “Hey, Nick, I’ve really taken to heart what you were saying about this, and I’ve done some research and I’ve looked up some things others are doing and I’ve benchmarked with them. What if we do this process this way? I think we can cut out three steps. We can save at least 10 hours of time. We can automate some things that we hadn’t done before.” And me as a leader, not only feels okay, I’ve gotten the message across. This person is really getting it, and then getting it to the point where liberating thinking says that you’ve now created a kind of environment that someone comes into your office and says, “Hey boss, I tested this out and here are the results I got”. So they haven’t even come in to ask permission. You’ve now created the kind of environment of continuous improvement, and they understand the strategy and the direction that you want them to go, etc. And it’s your ability to get out, coach them and mentor them along the way, which is so critical. So it’s those three that I would really emphasize.

[00:48:22] Henry Suryawirawan: Thanks for sharing these three models. I’m sure if I asked five, you we’ll include the other.

[00:48:26] Nick Horney: Absolutely. Yeah, I’ll do that.

[00:48:29] Henry Suryawirawan: So definitely this AGILE Model is something that has been proven to work in Nick’s work since I think 2001. So definitely try it and test it, make sure to check it out for those of you who are interested in assessing about your Leadership Agility Fitness, and hopefully you can be VUCA Masters as what Nick mentioned as the title of the book. So Nick, for people who are interested to follow you or learn more about you, where can they find you online?

[00:48:54] Nick Horney: Well, several things. Probably LinkedIn is a very easy way to follow out. I will continue doing some writing and some articles at LinkedIn. But also Agility Consulting and Training. Go to our website of Agility Consulting, and you can find information about the business. There are many articles, white papers, etc, that you could download from our website as well, and get more information about our focus on leadership team and organizational agility.

[00:49:24] Henry Suryawirawan: Thanks again, Nick, for spending your time here. I wish you good luck in training all the leaders out there to be VUCA Masters.

[00:49:31] Nick Horney: Terrific. Henry, thank you. It’s been a pleasure.

– End –