In today's business environment, there is significant emphasis placed on mangers to adapt and lead with agility. But what does that actually mean? According to Adjunct Faculty members at AGSM @ UNSW Business School Paul Mills and Matthew Byrne, it's about changing out-dated leadership habits to make an impact in an accelerated world.

Throughout their career, leaders develop a series of values, habits and unconscious biases that define how they motivate others, drive accountability, and deliver value for their organisation. These behaviours may have worked well in the past, however, as we transition to new virtual environments, these habits and ways of working will need to be updated. Leaders need to question whether the behaviours that have previously led them to success are the right ones to use today.

"One of the greatest enemies of change is a paradigm of success, fuelling the belief that what we have always done will continue to be successful in a new environment. It may be more than just ineffective; it may be damaging the entire organisation,” said Mills.

"A traditional mindset leads us to believe that day-to-day operational tasks, like our regular meetings, are what drives performance. But as we move to a working from home environment, it can create a fear spiral as leaders feel they are losing control of their teams," he explained.

Managers are tasked with designing systems and processes that create efficient ways of working for their teams, then use their leadership authority to maintain the status quo. This authority is highly individual, and has been created and reinforced by personal experiences, habits, values and unconscious biases.

However, when managers move into an environment of rapid change, many of these characteristics they used to rely on are no longer effective,” said Byrne. “An example of this behaviour is in a face-to-face environment; I might determine how engaged my team members are by observing their behaviour and then applying a predefined list of actions on the best ways to motivate them.

"In a virtual world, this sensory analysis final and its predetermined responses no longer hold any value. I cannot physically see my team and I cannot observe their behaviour or emotional reaction,” he said. “I do not know whether they are engaged or not and I do not know how to drive their performance. Therefore, my current toolkit on how to determine engagement will need to be upskilled to cope with this new way of working.“

Byrne highlights that focusing on the right drivers of performance has been a long-standing challenge for many organisations, and COVID-19 may prove to be the catalyst for change that many organisations and business models needed.

"Leaders might have been looking at things like hours spent in the office as an indicator of productivity, but we know this often leads to a false sense that the organisation and its people are performing at the highest possible level. The current change in circumstances mean mangers can take this opportunity to re-evaluate these indicators and see what really matters and how best to generate shared value within their team and for the wider business."

Mills and Byrne agree that it is about taking an approach that harnesses human-centred and adaptive leadership practices to shift the way mangers need to respond in this virtual environment. The impact of doing so now would not only help organisations navigate the impact of COVID-19 but emerge from it in a better position to realise and implement change.

According to Mills, one of the core behaviours that can hold an organisation back is the tendency to apply technical solutions to adaptive challenges.

"In stable times, we apply knowledge, expertise and data to respond to challenges. In a time of rapid change, those things no longer hold weight and we need to look to things we have never tried before – to experimentation – to find solutions."

Mills says it's a challenge our banks are now facing, in particular the Central Banks.

"Financial institutions across the world often have the most highly qualified people with the top economic minds in their respective countries. But they are navigating unchartered waters. It will be interesting to see if they have the agility to pivot to new ways of thinking and working to find innovative solutions."

Organisations across all sectors are facing radical, adaptive changes for which there are no tried and tested solutions in their current business model.

"It is the perfect time to innovate and develop the leadership skills and tools to question the status quo to drive real change," Mills concludes.

To learn more on how leaders can change their current patterns and behaviours, join Mills and Byrne for the AGSM Virtual Learning Course: Leading an Organisation through Dynamic Environments

Combining live virtual workshops with action learning and coaching, Leading an Organisation through Dynamic Environments will provide a roadmap to shift gears and challenge existing habits to lead more effectively during COVID-19 and beyond. It is suited to individuals who want to enhance their own leadership and groups from the same organisation, who can learn together to drive deep cultural change.

Find out more at or contact AGSM Short Courses on +61 2 9385 0330 or