What it takes for Agile leadership to work

What is Agile leadership?

Agile leadership reveals itself truely when teams are embracing the agile methodology for developing products and services. The agile leader should ‘get out of the way’ to let the right people take responsibility for running with agile. All the while being fully supportive of the change required in its operating model and allowing for (and embracing) the behavioural shift required of their employees to succeed in the new way of working.

Why is Agile leadership important?

Agile leadership recognises that different styles of leadership may be needed in different situations, and allow their teams to ‘self-organise’ on solving problems and developing ideas.

It’s important because, with an Agile leader, teams will not only be supported in changing their behaviour, but be encouraged to innovate and be autonomous without fear.

Different organisations will have different approaches to their agile deployment. Some will take a top-down approach (which will require far more stakeholder management from the leader), while others see the bottom-up approach better suited for the business.

Top-down will be a full organisation roll out and will be as a result of a major shift in an operating model and structure. While a bottom-up approach will usually start with pilot teams, testing the methodology. This requires less involvement from senior management at the start.

(Download our report on the difference between Top-down and bottom-up)

What are the challenges with Agile leadership?

The challenges faced by Agile leadership are from reluctance or misalignment within their own senior management teams. Buy-in is required at most levels to ensure the success of deploying agile. And while your leadership team may not all be in agreement, the most important part is that your employees are.

So, importantly, the biggest challenge is from employees who are being asked to take on a whole new mindset. The people who are actually being given the autonomy and permission for self-organising. It’s important the employees have the understanding and motivation to change the way they traditionally worked. That comes from being very clear about the broader goals and strategy.

That is usually helped by Agile coaches being hired or contracted to embed the new ways of working from the start.

What do we recommend for Agile leadership?

It’s recommended that Agile leadership allow for the teams to have time to get used to the new ways of working. We know that one of the 12 principles of Agile is self-organising teams. That can take some time, particularly when some are used to being output driven, not outcome driven.

We also recommend that leadership recognise when old habits start creeping in, and biases that can start to impact the success of Agile. Biases can include fear of change, taking too much control back, fear of failure, and rewarding tenure over talent. Doing an Agile diagnostic is a good place to start, if you feel teams or employees are reverting into bad habits.

During the pandemic especially we saw a lot of success from the “human leaders”. The ones that showed vulnerability and empathy. However it shouldn’t take a pandemic to demonstrate these qualities.

We recommend the strongest Agile leaders have empathy 365 days of the year.


You can read more articles on Agile Leadership here.


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