The concept of “agitating for the future” in leadership can be described as a proactive and forward-thinking approach to leadership that involves stirring action and instigating change with a focus on long-term goals and outcomes. This style of leadership is often characterized by a visionary mindset, the ability to inspire and mobilize others, and a commitment to driving positive transformation.
Darren Purcell, Head of Global Talent Development at Palo Alto Networks, writes: “Agitating for the future means examining the way you do things today, and asking yourself ‘why do it this way? Is there a better way?’”
In essence, agitating for the future is about disrupting yourself, your team, and your clients before somebody else disrupts you. It is at their most successful times that leaders need to stand up and disrupt the team around them. It is also about leaders taking themselves and their team further than they ever thought they could.
John Jones, IT Director at Maximus, writes: “Change is going to happen. You can drive it, or it can drive over you. In 1962 Avis started a brilliant ad campaign ‘When you’re only No. 2, you try harder.’ It tapped into the reality that when a company – or person – reaches the top they tend to lose momentum. It may be a belief they’ve mastered the alchemy of the perfect solution or deserve to bask in their position. Two things combat that, a never-ending goal and a leader who says, ‘take a moment, pat yourselves on the back and then let’s talk about what we can do better.’”
Steve Rudolph, organizational coaching and development, explains that agitating your people is intentionally disrupting their current view of reality. In the best sense, agitating your people is engaging them in honest dialogue about the business consequences of not changing. Agitation is declaring a future that doesn’t currently exist; it’s the vision thing. You are the irritation that initiates the pearl-forming process. Vision requires leadership clarity. Ideally, the vision setting process has been highly collaborative, involving front-line staff. But at the end of the day a decision made is a course set. The effective manager makes a compelling business case for why embracing the status quo is dangerous and appreciating that discomfort is the solution, not the problem. Actively playing the role of a grain of sand which forms the pearl requires management resiliency and courage.
Fabiana Lacerca-Allenm, a Chief Compliance Officer, believes that “the leaders that are agitating the future are those disruptive leaders. Their leadership is a transformative approach that challenges traditional norms, fostering innovation and driving change. It embraces risk-taking, is intuitive, empowers teams, and encourages outside-the-box thinking. By questioning the status quo, embracing new technologies, and adapting swiftly, disruptive leaders create lasting impact and shape the future.”
How do great leaders agitate for the future?
Colin Hunter, CEO of PotentialSquared argues that there’s a lot of talk about innovation, but in practice, we know that actions speak louder than words. Entrepreneurs have gained a daredevil mystique through their high-stakes approach to business, which often fails – but can also pay off spectacularly.
He writes: “Richard Branson recently told the story of his ‘biggest light bulb moment’. He located it very near the beginning of his career, when he realised that the cut-price records he was selling through his struggling youth culture magazine Student provided a greater opportunity than the magazine itself. Through this revelation, Student was shelved, and Virgin Records was born.
“In fact, the ‘light bulb’ that came on for Branson illuminated something that he was already doing. Having tested various other ways to make the magazine profitable and failed, he tried an experiment that turned out to be highly successful and used that prototype to take the next step.
“The other key point is that he took a risk. A big one. By shutting down the operation he knew and betting everything on a new idea, Branson paved the way for a brand that would ultimately be defined by the breadth of its portfolio and adventurous spirit.
“And there’s one more detail implied by Branson’s story of cross-industry switching: the people who went on the journeys with him. The entrepreneur credits his team for working with him through Virgin’s various adventures, and rightly so. Virgin is not Richard Branson, but an organization of people who are galvanised by him into following him into the unknown. He’s said of his management style, ‘if you take care of your employees, your employees will take care of your customers and your customers will take care of your shareholders.’ And of starting such a wide portfolio of businesses, he claims that it’s all about hiring the right people, giving them the freedom they need and stepping back. For Branson, disruption is a people skill.”
Rioh Burke-Derby, Strategy and Growth Consultant at Avande concludes that agitating for the future has wider implications across businesses looking to the future by “navigating the evolving landscape of sustainability, investing in the right talent, and placing diversity at the forefront. It’s about proactively shaping tomorrow’s leaders and fostering innovation for a resilient future.”
How are you agitating for the future in your organization?