How to be an agile leader

The world is changing fast and our lives are much more complex than they used to be. People in senior roles are making decisions about things that haven’t happened before, and without the comfort of having all the facts. Because of Artificial Intelligence, jobs are being created that don’t exist today, and today’s jobs won’t exist tomorrow.

In a VUCA* world like this, the only way to be is more human – to bring all of who you are to work, and let go of your fears.

I’ve recently completed certification training on an inside-out tool that helps leaders and teams to do just this. Building on a model by Kegan on the stages of adult development, the Leadership Circle Profile (LCP) looks at what an effective agile leader embodies. Some of my clients are already using this tool as the basis of their leadership and cultural transformation to evolve to a new way of being in this VUCA world.

This article gives you food for thought to help you develop a deeper understanding of these principles. It is linked to my previous two articles: Agile Organisations, and Agile teams and completes the trio to help you develop and thrive.

*VUCA stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. The term was first used in 1987 by the US Army War College, drawing on the leadership theories of Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus after the Cold War. An article in Harvard Business Review paraphrased it as: “Hey, it’s crazy out there!”

5 levels of leadership

LCP posits there are five stages of adult development – starting with Egocentric, and moving up through to Unitive:

  • Egocentric – The limit of this structure of identity is that it does not notice other’s (often competing) needs. It is egocentric. “I relate to the other to get my needs met and don’t yet know how to make your needs important to me.” This stage usually ends at adolescence, but about 5% of leaders remain stuck at this level
  • Reactive – We spend a significant part of our adult life at this stage. We take up a role in a larger society and identify ourselves with our role. The new structure of the self can be articulated, as “I am my role.” At this stage, the self is made secure and valuable by belonging to and succeeding within prescribed socially accepted roles. It’s an outside-in perspective. This is where the vast majority of leaders are
  • Creative – “I configure a self from the inside out for the first time. Vision springs from within. Action becomes an authentic expression of an emerging sense of inner purpose.”  About 30% are currently operating like this
  • Integral – Here, the inner self-definition shifts from “I am a whole and complete self that coordinates with other whole and complete selves” to an internal realisation that, in fact, “ I am not whole and complete.” Rather, I am many selves.
  • Unitive – Where you recognise that we are all connected at a spiritual level. Only a tiny percentage of people reach this point


A person at the Egocentric level is totally focused on themselves and their own needs. They don’t care about other people, the team, the organisation or its customers.

Leaders at this stage tend to be very controlling, “My way or the highway”. Employees at this stage tend to play out victim or rebel roles. Organisations that operate out of a culture organised at this level are dictatorial and oppressive.


A leader at the Reactive level of development is often driven by their role and what they believe is expected of them (e.g. by parents, community, company). They operate from a mindset that they must, should or have to do things, otherwise something bad will happen.

Many people stay at this stage throughout their life, and are usually successful and integrated members of society. But it can be limiting – especially if you want to be an effective, agile leader – because this ‘parental’ mindset can hold you in a place of needing to comply, protect or control:

Three components of being reactive

There are three scales within the Reactive space, according to the LCP model. You’ll probably be in all of them, but one may be more dominant than the others. Do you recognise yourself in these descriptions?

  • Complying:  You get your sense of self-worth and security by complying with expectations and being validated by others rather than acting on what you really want. You often move towards people
  • Protecting: You get your sense of self-worth and security by withdrawing, remaining distant, aloof, cynical, superior and/or rational. You tend to move away from people
  • Controlling: You’re driven to be the best. You get your sense of self-worth and security through tasks, accomplishments and personal achievements. You like to have power over people and tell them what to do

There are gifts in each of these three areas too:

  • Complying: You are loyal and sensitive to the needs of others, and have the seeds of social and emotional intelligence
  • Protecting: Your detachment gives rise to wisdom, so you can challenge limited thinking. You have the seeds of caring, awareness and purposeful courage
  • Controlling: You have energy, drive, a focus on continuous improvement and a desire for outstanding results. You have the seeds of visionary leadership

Are you more Complying, Protecting or Controlling? Keep a diary of your behaviour for two weeks, then look at whether your behaviour relates to one of those three areas and then decide what you want to do about it.

If you feel you’re currently in the Reactive level and you want to move to Creative, the first thing to do is name it. Pay attention to how you react. Start by noticing it and making choices about whether it makes sense to react differently.

“To name it is to tame it”
Dr Daniel Siegel

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What are you noticing?
  • What impact is that having?
  • What do you feel about that?

By paying attention to your behaviour and consciously changing it, you will start to move towards the Creative level of leadership. The idea is to harness the gifts in the Reactive stage, and take them with you into the Creative stage, leaving behind the fear.


Unlike a person at the Reactive level who reacts to their surroundings, a leader at the Creative level has a different starting point.

It’s not about you as an individual; it’s about what you want to be. Your purpose, vision and what you love emanates from you.

People come from within. They bring all of who they are to work – include their flaws.

Leaders at the Creative level are effective because they balance task and relationship – neither one dominates.

Effective leaders have the following capabilities (according to the LCP tool):

  • Relating: Capability to relate to others in a way that brings out the best in people, groups and organisations
  • Self-Awareness: Orientation to ongoing professional and personal development, and expression of self-awareness through high integrity leadership
  • Authenticity: Capability to relate to others in an authentic, courageous and high-integrity manner
  • Systems Awareness: Awareness focused on whole system improvement, productivity and community welfare
  • Achieving: Offer visionary, authentic and high achievement leadership

Research has shown that the strongest correlation with leadership effectiveness is:

  • Fostering teamwork (captured in Relating)
  • Interpersonal intelligence (captured in Relating)
  • Clear purpose and vision (captured in Achieving)

How would you assess yourself against each of these capabilities?

“The reasons why consciousness exists, and why there is an urge to widen and deepen it, is very simple. Without consciousness, things go less well.”
Carl Jung

LCP wheelAbout the LCP tool

As mentioned above, we all have elements of both Reactive and Creative within us.

The LCP tool measures the extent you are displaying each type of mindset and behaviours. It then enables you to minimise your Reactive behaviours while taking the relevant gifts and developing your Creative side.

It works both for individual leaders and for leadership teams.

The results will help you identify where you are. You can observe which changes you want to make to move into the Creative space, and which gifts you want to take with you.

It will also show you your leadership capabilities in Creative – where you are strong, and where you might want to develop.

So overall, you can determine how to reduce your Reactive tendencies, harness the gifts of these Reactive tendencies and develop your Creative capabilities. Then, the sky is your limit!

“Wherever you go, there you are”
Attributed to Confucius and Buckeroo Banzai

What this means to you

If you’d like to explore the LCP tool to help you become a more agile leader, or to use it with your leadership team, please let me know. If you like, I can also send you a PDF describing the levels of adult development in more detail.

Further reading

To explore this subject in more detail, please see my related articles, which include:

You might also like to read (or re-read) about the change management methodology and programme I designed and ran for UCLH, because it includes a focus on relationships as well as tasks.

Finally, my two articles about mindfulness help you connect with your body and get out of your mind, which helps to calm you down.

Next month

Words that change minds