Agile Leadership

Agile Leadership - ToolsHero

This article describes the Agile Leadership in a practical way. After reading you will understand the definition and basics of this powerful leadership philosophy.

What is Agile Leadership?

Agile leadership is aimed at the ability to look at situations from different perspectives and react to them flexibly. Within Agile leadership, the growth and cooperation of teams are of central importance. This is where it differs from traditional leadership. Not just the Agile leadership style is different, the preparedness to expand capacity is also a part of it. If it leads to good and acceptable results, it is possible to ignore guidelines every now and then.

What is Agile working?

Agile leadership is accompanied by an Agile organisational structure. Agile is a popular working method; it literally means ‘skilful’ and ‘flexible’. In the IT world, Agile means software development in short and clear periods called ‘iterations’. This means Agile is a method to develop software and to work in a more flexible way. A strong dependence on face-to-face communication is typical of Agile, for which the transfer of information is paramount. It also revolves around the contact and cooperation with the client. Average Agile teams are no larger than 8 people.

Multifunctional teams

Within an Agile organisation, the Agile leader works with multifunctional teams as much as possible to bring together knowledge and strengthen each other. It is the leader’s job to then motivate such a team to get to a higher level. Team members are expected to take enough responsibility and have good contact with each other as well as the clients. In order to support them in this, the Agile leader needs to provide a secure work environment where mistakes are allowed. They also need to be provided with all the information. This is necessary to come to the right decisions. The Agile leader oversees this. The team members must have their own authority and freedom to provide output, without the Agile leader looking over their shoulders.

Flexibility

Agile leadership is characterised by flexibility that is applied continuously. The leader adjusts and reacts to their environment. The type of leadership varies per situation. Traditional leaders can also end up transforming into Agile leaders, by paying attention to the following aspects:

Goal-oriented working

The common goal is of great importance within Agile leadership. This is what causes the team members to be driven and motivated to reach the goal. It is the Agile leader’s job to inform the team members about the organisation’s goals and to translate these into inspiring departmental goals together with the team.

Taking action

Stimulating change is important for Agile leadership, but taking action and providing the right example as a leader is also a big part of this. By presenting themselves as empathetic, caring and passionate, they can inspire their team members.

Qualitative and critical thinking

By approaching problems from different angles and looking at them critically, the quality of thinking will increase. That then leads to better results. The contact with the real world provides valuable information in order to come to a decision. Thinking is allowed at any given moment, without losing sight of priorities. The Agile leader is open to the ideas of others, regardless of their status or position.

Effective feedback

Agile leaders are not afraid to ask for feedback from their team members and colleagues. They are open to changing their behaviour. They do not ignore suggestions from colleagues and team members and ensure that the entire feedback process takes place in all directions and in an open and respectful environment.

Organisation-wide

Agile leadership should not be restricted to 1 department, but should be spread throughout all levels of the organisation. This will help the organisation to adapt to changing circumstances. On top of that, it is the Agile leader’s job to involve and motivate their employees in this.

Pitfalls of Agile leadership

Because of the many freedoms, Agile leadership also has many pitfalls. Firstly, it is not always logical for a team to get so much freedom and become self-regulating. At the start, this may lead to chaos and mistakes. Team members need to gain the confidence that it is okay to make mistakes as long as they are able to recover themselves. They will have to rely on their own expertise and independence. It is not so much about quantity and speed, as it is about the quality they deliver.

There is a chance that both Agile and a traditional working method are used alongside each other. When people draw on old leadership elements like budget and planning, it gets in the way of the Agile leadership. When communication with clients also works according to the traditional planning, it leads to conflicting situations. In order to discover the underlying needs, teams need to be involved in the communication with clients at an early stage. It is also important that the new leadership elements are actively employed and used.

Lastly, the Agile leader cannot use Agile as an excuse or as a goal. Something is not possible, because ‘Agile says otherwise’. Organisations profit most from Agile leadership by responding quickly to changes in the market, new insights and input from their clients.

It’s Your Turn

What do you think? What is your experience with Agile Leadership? Do you recognize the practical explanation or do you have more additions? What are your success factors for encouraging and supporting employees in achieving their goals?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

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More information

  1. Joiner, B. (2009). Guide to Agile Leadership-As change accelerates, so do novelty and uncertainty. Industrial Management (Des Plaines), 51(2), 10.
  2. Parker, D. W., Holesgrove, M., & Pathak, R. (2015). Improving productivity with self-organised teams and agile leadership. International Journal of Productivity and Performance Management, 64(1), 112-128.
  3. Rigby, D. K., Sutherland, J., & Takeuchi, H. (2016). Embracing agile. Harvard Business Review, 94(5), 40-50.

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