What is agile leadership about? How would you define it, how would you explain it? Those are just a few questions people are asking these days.
Agile leaders are able to inspire others, creates and communicate an appealing vision or a higher purpose which motivates organization and would constantly be looking for better ways of working through feedback. It’s about being inclusive, support others on their leadership journey. Being open to new ideas, experiments and innovations. Support creativity. Be able to garden the right mindset and creates cultures based on collaboration. Agile leader is a coach and good listener.
Agile leadership is not about tools, practices or methodologies. It’s an ability to look at the organization from the system perspective, understand system dynamics, be able to get awareness about what’s happening, embrace it, understand it and become an integral part of the system and finally be able to act upon and influence it with coaching, and initiate a change.
New management paradigm is about collaboration and trust, decentralization, continuous adaptation and flexibility, cooperation and teamwork. From the static management in the industrial era, we shifted to strategic management in last twenty years of the last century and moved quickly into the dynamic management which tries to keep up the speed with modern constantly changing, complex world. That’s the world which critically needs agile leadership as anything else is not flexible enough to deal with nowadays challenges. Companies need more creativity, collaboration, and innovations – simply agility. That’s the way how to be successful. That’s the way how to achieve their goals. That’s the way how to survive and don’t become new dinosaurs who are so huge, slow and inflexible that they eventually disappear from the world.
Modern world brings not only the different way of developing software called Agile but also changes in the organizational structure and leadership. You see it more and more often. People at the classes are asking why their managers are not there to hear the message. But very often they are, and they are ready to change the entire organization and their leadership style.
The ‘Shu’ level of Agile transformation is focused on practices and individuals or teams. How can we start? As a result, we create small isolated islands of Agility where we get to experience and learn more about what does it mean to be Agile. Sometimes companies are looking for shortcuts. But you can’t skip this level. It’s your foundation. If you make it solid, you are more likely going to be successful with Agile at the organizational level. At this level, you might see some improvements, but can’t achieve greater efficiency across the whole organization.
The ‘Ha’ level of Agile Transformation is when you start Scaling phase. This is where the Business Agility starts to take place. That’s where the different leadership starts to be critically needed as you have to grow the different structure and mindset. The key focus is shifting towards how to develop leaders and how senior employees are growing within a company. As the right culture is getting its place, people are coming with innovative creative ideas which can make a difference in the company results. This situation is currently the biggest challenge we are facing now as an industry and its topic of many discussions. Together with Scaling frameworks (like LeSS – Large Scale Scrum) which address the organizational design, we talk about different Agile management practices, Agile HR, Agile in marketing, Agile in finance. Companies that understand this can create an environment that is more efficient, productive, and more successful than anything we have ever achieved with classical management methods.
Finally, the ‘Ri’ level of Agile transformation starts when the Business Agility is the normal way you operate your business. We have individual Agile leaders in the organization, and people take over initiatives. This is a time for another organizational shift. At this stage, we have a true Agile executive team, focusing on long-term strategy and Agile Board of Directors focusing on the purpose and vision both working as teams collaborating together. Both truly living Agile values.
The world is changing in cycles, fashion goes in cycles, and the same is true for Agile. What was trendy yesterday, is not today and it can change surprisingly fast 🙂 So let’s have a look what are the new trends in Agile and what the Agile community is talking about:
Agile Leadership and Agile Organization
Agile is not just a set of practices how to write a good software, but it’s more and more used in every part of the organization. The traditional leadership (leader-follower model) is no longer acceptable in Agile environments. In the previous years, almost everybody focused on teams and how to adopt Agile, Scrum, and Kanban to the teams. But if we want to be successful at the organizational level, this is not enough. We need to push boundaries and help the whole organization to change. Hand in hand with that, we need to grow Agile leaders and support Agile leadership which is the critical key to the organizational success with Agile.
Agile out of IT
As it was already mentioned, for real success, it’s important to change the whole organization into Agile. The common practice is to change IT department and leave it as isolated island inside the traditional organization. But this is just the beginning. The company has to follow the same culture and the same style of the working, so you hear more and more about Agile in HR and talent management, Agile finances, Agile marketing etc.
Finally, there is a term of Business Agility which brings back the real value of Agile. Agile was never meant to be development process of your IT. It was supposed to be business value driven. It should bring the startup mindset back to the organizations, and look at the delivery from a business perspective. Prioritize, deliver value in short cycles, get feedback, measure impact. This is the real Agile mindset.
If you are in Agile or do you plan to try and implement it focus on these topics because without it Agile become only an empty skeleton of practices and processes. Agile is organizational change, it changes the mindset, culture, leadership, and business focus. If you take it as such change, you are going to be successful with Agile.
The more Agile Leadership is popular, people are asking for more description. Who is the Agile Leader, what makes him different from a traditional manager, and which competencies and skills they have to have. So I created this Agile Leader Wheel so you can map the competencies and skills.
Great Agile Leaders have four core competencies in which they can create a vision, enhance motivation, get feedback, and implement change. Vision is the driving engine. It’s not necessarily related to the product and business but the organization itself. The second segment is motivation. Agile Leaders understand the nature of motivation, are familiar with the power of intrinsic motivation of autonomy and purpose. The third one from the top section of the Agile Leader Wheel is feedback. For Agile Organizations feedback is crucial, it makes the team and product feedback part of their DNA, it becomes an integral part of their culture. The same for Agile Leaders, the regular feedback from the system is the key to their success. The last piece is the ability to implement change. For Agile Leaders, the change is happening at three levels. Firstly there is a change in myself, my own beliefs, reactions, the way I work. Secondly, there is the ability to influence others. Make them part of my team, get supports who will help me to lead the change. Finally, the third element of change is a change at the system level, the whole organization level.
In addition to the mentioned competencies, Agile leaders will need to balance the time when they need to make a decision and when it’s better to collaborate and empower others to take a responsibility for that. Finally, on the right side, Agile Leaders are facilitators and coaches. We are not speaking here about one-one coaching. Great Agile Leaders use coaching as a spice to address the complexity at the system level and coach the organization as a whole. Great Agile Leaders are not born this way but constantly develop those competencies and skills. This concept is part of my Agile Leadership program where I help leaders to understand the complexity of nowadays organizations and be successful in their roles. Looking forward to seeing you at some of my Agile Leadership workshops.
As the world is getting more complex, organizations has to change to keep competitive. They must become more flexible, team oriented, self-organized. And as a consequence, the leaders shall adopt another approach to motivate people and lead the organizations to keep up the speed. Agile Leadership concept was created to help the leaders to understand the nature of the change which is happening in the business right now, and be able to react to the challenges which modern organizations brought in its all complexity. Agile Leadership concept is not about how to implement Agile, Scrum, Kanban, Extreme Programming, or Lean. You have people in your organization who can do that. The Leadership model is here for leaders, managers, directors, entrepreneurs, and owners to help them to sustain the change and be able to create Agile organization or become effective in it.
Organization is a complex system by itself as it deals with people and their behavior. There is no clear link between cause and effect. It’s a network of interdependent elements. It’s not predictable so the traditional approaches which expect predictability and consistency fail. It all worked until about 1970 as the world had been only complicated at that time. Nonetheless, a lot changed from that time. Globalization and Internet allows businesses to grow fast so the density of nowadays businesses is so huge and communication so fast that they involve each other all the time and cause doesn’t link to any predictable effect anymore.
The first step of the Agile Leadership model is “Get Awareness”. Awareness of the current reality, understanding of what’s happening around us, be mindful about the surrounding. Organization is a system which constantly sends signals. All we have to do is to be aware of them, notice them, and listen to them. The second step is “Embrace It”. It helps us to accept whatever is happening in the system without the urge to evaluate. Who knows what is good and what is bad. Our self-power is coming from our ability to gain enough clarity so it builds trust in the whole system. The third step is “Act Upon”. It uses the power gained in the previous step to influence things and change the system behavior.
To make it simple, in our Agile Leadership Program we guide you through those steps. Every change is difficult, and the change of ourselves is usually the toughest. However, the result will definitely pay off.