Leadership in complexity, ambiguity and uncertainty


Legal firms can learn lessons from Agile leadership even though they may not perceive themselves to be in a fast moving, ever changing world.  Over the past few months, almost everyone has experienced significant change to their working practices. Compared to many other working environments, the legal world is traditionally fairly stable, with best practices delivering the best results.  For now, many lawyers find themselves living in an environment dominated by complexity, ambiguity and uncertainty. To maximise performance in this environment we need to be able to remain flexible and open to what is emerging to allow firms to achieve their potential.

Agile leadership is made up of three aspects of leadership practice: agile influence, agile intelligence and emotional endurance.

Agile Influence

Agile influence is the ability of a leader to empathise with others and the environment they operate in.  It is the ability to shape the thoughts and actions of those they lead and understand their actions and behaviours.  It applies equally to strategic leaders who must influence the external environment as well as the internal organisation as it does to team leaders who have a key role in influencing front line operations and therefore organisational effect.

Agile intelligence

Agile intelligence is the ability to think and act creatively and operate in an appropriate manner for the dominant situation.  This involves the combination of creative thinking combined with tacit knowledge to adapt and adopt an appropriate approach for the environment and organisation that the leader operates in to be able to cut through complexity, thrive in ambiguity and navigate in uncertainty.

Emotional endurance is the ability of the leader to react appropriately in the moment through an innate knowledge of themselves and their emotional and decision-making biases.  Through emotional intelligence a leader is able to respond quickly to priorities and recover and learn from adversity and diversity allowing for enduring and lasting leadership to emerge.

Agile leadership

By combining these three competencies and leader is able to embody enduring leadership which will allow them to operate in a complex, ambiguous and uncertain environment.  A leader not only needs to be able to think about the way they lead, they need to be able to feel their way through leadership and intuitively execute leadership.  This means that they must be able to reflect in the moment, be aware of their emotions and be able to act on their instinct.  Much of this depends on the leader’s level of adult development and emotional intelligence.  Coaching can help in this process by allowing the leader to embody their authentic selves and build a space for creative collaboration.  They are then able to act in the moment to create and seize opportunities through instant execution.


  • Goleman, D. (1999) Working with emotional intelligence. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.
  • Goleman, D. (2011) The brain and emotional intelligence: New insights.  Northhampton: More than sound
  • RMAS (2012) Developing Leaders. Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, Surry.
  • Snowden, D. & Boone, M. (2007) A leaders framework for decision making. Harvard Business Review, November 2007.

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