Introduction to Agile Leadership

In this day and age, it is crucial that organizations recognize the value of enterprise agility. With the focus in enterprise agility, organizations can improve the speed of decision making, learning, product development and significantly reduces the time between prototype creation and release of the product to the market. One of the most widely accepted philosophy or ways of working to achieve enterprise agility is Agile.

To be agile involves adopting a new way of thinking and working that is based on a set of values and principles. There are many frameworks that can be easily learned and adopted such as Scrum, and Kanban that can guide organizations to follow the “Agile way of working”. However, even with the use of those frameworks, many companies still struggle to effectively implement Agile. One of the most common failures of agile is underestimating the effort of leadership in driving Agile. There are differences between Agile leadership and traditional leadership. The main differences are in leadership style and the willingness to expand capacity and improve capabilities to be more Agile.

The Agile Business Consortium developed The Nine Principles of Agile Leadership to help leaders understand what Agile Leadership is and to guide them to effectively drive Agile transformation [1]. The table below shows how the nine principles are related to the 3 important Cs of Agile Leadership which are Communication, Commitment and Collaboration.

Table 1: The 3C’s of Agile Leadership

Table 1: The 3C’s of Agile Leadership [1].

The Nine Principles of Agile Leadership:

Below are the nine principles of Agile Leadership to help leaders better understand how agile leadership is different from the traditional leadership and how they can use the nine principles as a guide to lead the team.

Principle 1: Actions speak louder than words

We’ve all heard of the wise saying “Be the change you wish to see”, similarly for Agile leadership, it is not only about driving the change, but also about being the change. Leaders need to lead by example to inspire people around him to do the same and actively work on their own development.

Principle 2: Improved quality of thinking leads to improved outcomes

Agile leaders should focus on high quality thinking, which will enable them to solve problems and achieve goals more effectively. When a problem arise, Agile leader should view the problem from different angles, and go directly to the root cause of the problem before making any decision.

Principle 3: Organizations improve through effective feedback

Collecting feedback allows the leader to understand the true result or outcome of their work and able to use them to improve further. In any case agile leaders need to ensure that feedbacks are honest, meaningful and collected in a timely manner. They also need to take the time and effort to visibly respond to the feedback given to close the loop.

Principle 4: People require meaning and purpose to make work fulfilling

The leadership style of an agile leader should always emphasize on building and sharing a common understanding and purpose. The leaders need to understand, and try to align the vision or goals of the organization and the purpose or goals of the members.

Principle 5: Emotion is a foundation to enhanced creativity and innovation

Agile leaders need to understand the importance of how emotion can affect members’ creativity and innovation. They need to always try their best to ensure the working environment, interactions and other factors can help the members achieve their full potential at work. This principle is also closely related to the 5th principle of Agile, which is to focus on building project around motivated individuals, by giving them the environment and support they need and trust them to get the job done.

Principle 6: Leadership lives everywhere in the organisation

Agile leaders should recognize the leadership potential of all members and practice servant leadership to provide support and opportunities for them to lead. This can help enhance the organization’s ability to learn and adapt faster.

Principle 7: Leaders devolve appropriate power and authority

People work best when they are motivated, enabled, and engaged. Thus, it is crucial that agile leaders learn to empower and motivate the people instead of using only power and authority to drive or push the team forward.

Principle 8: Collaborative communities achieve more than individuals

Agile Leaders build communities based on high trust, respect and meaningful working relationships. The healthy functioning of the group together with the preservation of psychological safety allow the Agile Leader to encourage learning and development whilst also balancing sustained output and performance for the benefit of the organisation.

Principle 9: Great ideas can come from anywhere in the organisation

Traditional leadership typically focuses on a top-down approach when it comes to execution of ideas or business strategy. Ideas often come from the top and employees are expected to execute them without any questions or suggestions. In agile, leaders need to recognize the fact that great ideas can come from anywhere and sometimes the best solution can come from the person who is actually doing the job or closer to the problem. Thus, agile leaders should always give the opportunity for members to speak up and help them understand which ideas were good and which were not.

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