In their book, Leadership Agility, Bill Joiner and Stephen Josephs (2007) describe urgent need for today’s leaders to lead effectively in highly turbulent, complex market places. Agility, as Joiner and Josephs define it, occurs in four areas:

  • Context Setting Agility, or the ability to set context within an existing environment,
  • Stakeholder Agility, or the ability to step back and consider the complex needs of various stakeholders
  • Creative Agility, or the ability to recognize and adapt beyond habitual assumptions, and
  • Self Leadership, or increasing one’s awareness of thoughts, feelings and behaviors and then experimenting with new approaches

While similar to previous work on emotional intelligence, complexity leadership theory, and other contingency theories, what’s unique about Leadership Agility is its application to vertical development. Vertical development is a description of adult development stage theory – all human beings naturally progress through various stages in their lives – although many of us stop at a certain stage, others continue to evolve how they see and experience the world over time.

What Joiner and Josephs argue is that these four abilities are different for leaders at different stages – in other words, a leader at an expert stage of development uses creative agility in a different manner than a leader at a catalyst stage of development. By helping leaders use these abilities effectively given their stage of development, leaders grow more agile, their view of the world grows more complex, and their thinking broadens.

Leadership Agility is a complex book dealing with complex ideas – it is not a Leadership 101 manual on how to inspire and engage others. However, the authors have developed a great model combining agile competencies with vertical development in a manner that’s understandable and practical. If you are looking for something on leadership that’s focused on a lifetime of development, Leadership Agility is a great place to start.



Tom Epperson

Tom Epperson

Dr. Tom Epperson is the President of InnerWill, and an instructor in Virginia Commonwealth University’s Executive MBA program. Tom is a certified business coach and has a Doctorate in Leadership from The George Washington University. Tom works with clients on cultural transformation, leadership development, executive coaching, and igniting individual and organizational potential. Previously, Tom served as the HR Director for Luck Companies, and played a significant role as one of the architects of Luck Companies’ cultural transformation.

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