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A 2021 Deloitte survey found that 67% of leaders regarded agility as a high priority across their organisation (see This highlights that increasingly leaders and managers need to display high degrees of agility to navigate their turbulent and complex business environments. Joiner and Josephs (2006: 6) describe leadership agility as the ‘..ability to take wise and effective action amid complex, rapidly changing conditions.’  For them, the agile leader adopts a proactive and intentional, rather than a passive and reactive stance which goes beyond the traditional view of flexibility and adaptability. Agility encompasses dynamism and drive to overcome operational and strategic challenges that threaten the growth and development of the organisation (see

The need to be more agile accelerated during the turmoil of the global pandemic. In the early stages traditional ways of operating very quickly became redundant and leaders needed to embrace creativity and decisiveness to survive. This operational agility was crucial during the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak; however, as time went by operational agility alone was not sufficient to maintain competitive advantage. Successful leaders quickly realised that business operations had to be fit for purpose in the long run and be re-designed to take advantage of new market opportunities. This strategic agility has enabled some organisations to survive the latter stages of the pandemic and look forward to a brighter and more productive post-pandemic future (see

A prominent example of the development of both operational and strategic agility is McDonald’s. In 2020 the company announced a radical new strategy called ‘Accelerating the Arches’ (see This is designed to capitalise on the new market conditions created by the COVID-19 outbreak and is predominantly focused upon how customers order their food. In particular, the approach concentrates upon drive thru, delivery and digital, and although aspects of the strategy had begun prior to 2020, the pandemic acted as a catalyst to accelerate implementation. In terms of operational agility the strategy has already yielded significant improvements. For instance, efficiency gains have been seen in drive thru times which on average have reduced by 30 seconds.  In terms of strategic agility, McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski, indicates that the new strategy will help to address changing customer behaviour and enable the company to capitalise on new market opportunities. He points to the evolution of convenience to include safety suggesting that consumers now believe ‘The faster I can get in and out of a place, the safer it is.’ In addition, Kempczinski signals the blurring between eating out and eating in, arguing that McDonald’s customers are following the trend that began in the pizza industry of bringing what was originally a dining out experience back to their homes (see

McDonald’s approach, both during and after the pandemic, is a clear and compelling example of the benefits of operational and strategic decisions that are grounded in leadership agility. This agile approach facilitates decisive action and innovation even when the future is uncertain. Given its value it is surprising that leadership agility is not routinely taught in Business Schools across the globe. Indeed, a notable omission from most MBA curricula is the development of leadership agility. Most often the primary focus is upon developing an understanding of the strategic contribution of the key business functions of human resources, finance, marketing and operations without enabling learners to develop a clearer understanding of what it takes to lead with agility in order to meet the challenges and uncertainties of the twenty-first century business environment. Exceptions in this area include management education providers such as the Centre for Professional & Economic Development (CPED) in Chester Business School at the University of Chester in the UK. Within its work based integrative learning framework CPED offers an MBA degree which enables learners to follow a negotiated work-based learning and development pathway. The MBA degree incorporates assessed critical self-reflection throughout, meets MBA benchmarks and enables students to study at a distance. Given its content, flexibility and approach, the CPED MBA programme is probably the best example of how aspiring managers and leaders can simultaneously acquire higher level business management skills and knowledge whilst developing a clearer understanding of themselves and their role in the organisations in which they operate.  

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