What is Agile Leadership, and why is it important?

- Agile and Lean Principles

An article by Erick Masgo, Management 3.0 Facilitator from Peru. Erick is passionate about sharing his knowledge related to soft skills and explains in today’s article, what’s at the basis of the term Agile Leadership.

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The pandemic has allowed many leaders to adapt to an increasingly changing context by adopting more agile working methods.

Modern leaders have had to foster a culture of experimentation and learning in their organizations and foster an environment where employees can make mistakes without fear of being blamed. Especially during these times, collaboration between employees at all levels has been vital, and everyone is working towards the same goal: The survival and sustainable growth of the organization; with a clear purpose, strategy, and priorities, where teams enjoy greater freedom to think and act autonomously while working to deliver a great customer experience.

These points feed well into the so-called Agile Leadership: A management style characterized by the ability to be calm in the face of pressure, reacting to unique circumstances effectively, being open to innovation, finding ways to inspire, involving employees, and keeping teams on the ground and the right path. By prioritizing people over processes, focusing on customer needs, and seeing change as adding value, organizations and leaders can survive and even thrive in times of crisis and change.

Agile Leaders are more humane, democratic, and inclusive leaders. They give their teams the “why” and trust them to discover and deliver the “how.” They provide their teams with the autonomy to self-organize, create and do the work.

Benefits of Agile Leadership

Why is it important to discuss Agile Leadership in the content of workshops and trainings and aim for better Agile Leaders? The list is long! A few of the benefits we can gain from adopting an Agile Leadership style are as follows:

  • Increased responsiveness at all levels
  • Increased energy for the most challenging and meaningful activities
  • Better communication between and within teams
  • More confidence in oneself and others
  • More motivated and involved employees
  • Employees with greater autonomy
  • Cultivate individual relationships with colleagues and appreciate their value (rather than fostering a higher subordinate dynamic like in hierarchical organizational cultures)
  • Continuous learning
  • More empowered leaders and a more empowered organization

Agile Leadership Principles

An excellent phrase from Mahatma Gandhi, “be the change you want to see”, reflects the Agile Leadership model, leading-by-example, quite well. The idea of starting with yourself first seems to be very simple to implement, however, it is not common. The leader must act according to the mindset (s)he wishes to promote. The leader is a reference to his teams in the organization. It’s not about people doing what leaders say, it’s about people doing what they see. 

The principles of Management 3.0 are related to the principles of Agile Leadership. Here’s a brief description of these principles:

Management 3.0 Principles
Principles rarely change, but practices always depend on the context. Learn more about the Management 3.0 Principles

Competencies of an Agile Leader

An Agile Leader has the following skills:

1- Co-create

The ability to co-create the vision and the direction. Together with the teams, the leader creates the focus on delivering value for customers and the company.

2- Facilitate

As a leader, it’s great to see teams taking over a situation. The Agile Leader’s job is to facilitate an environment where people and teams grow, work together, laugh, build trust, and do things beyond the exceptional for customers. Telling people what tasks they have to do and the decisions they need to make doesn’t help in this changing environment to get the best out of people. It often kills their intellectual capacity, their creativity, and synergy within teams. Agile Leaders must promote and facilitate a work environment in which employees thrive and allow them to be proud of their work.

3- Experiment

Agile Leaders support their teams and guide them in the execution of experiments. They create a secure environment where teams can learn from mistakes, experiments, and testing. The results of these experiments are shared with other departments and senior management, even when the result is negative and has negative consequences. The Agile Leader acts as a mentor during the experiments to learn quickly and safely.

4- Lead the culture

Agile Leaders are continuously improving culture in order to create an inspiring environment for their teams. A healthy culture is essential to the success of self-managed teams. Culture is the oxygen of the team. Without it, for example, collaboration is impossible, and teams don’t effectively focus on customer impact. Leaders, instead of micromanaging and controlling their teams, should create and improve the culture.

Also interesting: Your organization is becoming Agile. Don’t forget about the culture! | Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels

Examples of Agile Leadership

Amazon and Facebook are examples of companies that have an Agile culture. They provide lessons on empowering teams to do their best work and have leaders who lead by example.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos promotes high-quality, fast-speed decisions. This includes quickly recognizing and correcting bad decisions and adopting a strategy he calls “disagreeing and committing”: supporting a team’s decision if members believe in the choice, even if he doesn’t. For example, Jeff Bezos decided to release an Amazon Studios production even though he had doubts. Amazon Studios isn’t afraid to fail quickly by canceling new programs. He withdrew “The Last Tycoon” two weeks after releasing a season of episodes. This approach embodies Agile thinking. 

On the other hand, organizations based on networks with horizontal communication and continuous improvement, like Facebook is, are examples of culture with Agile Leadership. Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg says, “we have to accept organizational failure.” This goes hand in hand with making sure that top executives aren’t driving all decisions, but all contributors’ opinions are welcome and encouraged.

Sheryl Sandberg also highlights the importance of empathy in Facebook’s leaders. She says employees have personal lives that contribute to what they do, and leaders need to be flexible because it helps form relationships that create collective resilience.

These examples show that leaders with an Agile Leadership style can better serve their organizations by empowering their teams and allowing companies to develop sustainability, like Amazon and Facebook.

Agile Leadership & Purpose go hand in hand
Also interesting: Mindful Leadership: How to be a mindful leader | Photo by Polina Zimmerman from Pexels

Guiding questions for Agile Leaders

To conclude, I invite you to answer the following questions without overthinking. Observe if your answers are based on behaviors that allow you to know if you have been working with an Agile Leadership style and if not, ask yourself what would your first steps be to start adopting Agile Leadership? 

  • Why do you care about being a good leader?
  • Why don’t you want to stop leading your team?
  • Why do you want and dedicate time and effort to projects in your organization?
  • Why do you do what you do?
  • How does your role impact your life and that of others?
  • Why would anyone want to be led by you?
  • What kind of actions characterize you?
  • Think of actions you’re proud of (Find a minimum of 10)
  • Identify a person who inspires you and whom you admire. What do you like most about her? What specific behaviors and actions do you admire?
  • What similarities or relationships do you find between the actions you’re proud of and those you admire about the person you’ve identified? (Name 6).

Don’t forget:
Agile Leadership is the way to obtain sustainable results and the well-being of employees. It’s become one of the most effective ways to adapt to the complexity in which we are living and to the new reality.

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Header Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

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