Agile Leadership — A Brief Overview of Concepts and Ideas

INTRODUCTION

Agile Leadership is associated with mode four leaders who have the ability (and agility) to operate in any mode (system of thinking) and most importantly see from the perspectives of the other modes. It is this ability to think in a number of different ways that gives such leaders their agility. This is also introduced within the concepts of Agile Business Management as the primary management model for adaptive and agile organizations

Agile Leadership: Success Criteria for Organizational Change

In my experience, there are at least five criteria for successful agile transformations. Lasting organizational change happens:

  1. When there are leadership and guidance, not command & control.
  2. When there is alignment across the organization instead of the pursuit of local optimization efforts or personal agendas.
  3. When the collaboration of all participants beyond hierarchies is the norm, not an exception.
  4. When we acknowledge that management principles of the 19th century are unsuited to solve complex problems of the 21st century.
  5. When managers become servant leaders.

Servant leadership 

Servant leadership is a leadership philosophy in which the main goal of the leaders to serve. This is different from traditional leadership where the leader’s main focus is the thriving of their company or organizations.

Ten Principles of Servant Leadership

Listening, Empathy, Awareness, Healing, Persuasion, Conceptualization, Foresight, Stewardship, Commitment to the Growth of People, Building Community.

Intentbased leadership 

Intent-based leadership is about designing an environment where people give intent to each other and they feel valued and proud of their work. It helps give understanding into how they fit into the whole organization and its objectives. It helps them motivated, feel inspired, and take responsibility for their actions.

  1. Your words make a big impact
  2. be tolerant of differing approaches 
  3. Talk about intent 
  4. Help people devise their own solutions
  5. Make it a safe place to think
  6. Clarify language to minimize chaos
  7. Define roles and processes.
  8. Coercion does not work
  9. Employ a culture of transparency, sharing, and open feedback
  10. Ensure that people feel part of a collective we
  11. Never sacrifice short-term success for long-term wins

Agile mindset 

An agile mindset is the set of attitudes supporting an agile working environment. These include respect, collaboration, development and learning cycles, pride in ownership, focus on delivering value, and the ability to adapt to change.

Mindset, Complexity, and Planning

  • The definition of mindset: “The established set of attitudes held by someone.”
  • The complexity challenge:
    • The scientific management methodology of Frederick Taylor does not apply to “creative work.”
    • Problem-solving in a complex environment cannot be achieved with “more” planning.
    • The future in the complex or chaotic domain cannot be predicted.
    • Hence different approaches need to be employed when dealing with creative solutions in unchartered territory, for example, Empiricism or Lean.

Focus on Delivering Value

  • Continuous value delivery to customers; outcome over output. Continuous learning and applying empiricism:
    • Deming: PDCA cycle.
    • Empiricism: Transparency, inspection, and adaptation.
    • Iterative and incremental.
    • Accepting that failure is inevitable.
    • Willingness to adapt to change.

Self-Organization

  • Teams can best decide how to accomplish work and achieve the goal.
  • Teams outperform individuals.
  • Team building is a crucial success factor: the team wins and the team fails.
  • Optimize for flow not utilization, and move from push to flow.
  • The importance of values: courage, commitment, focus, openness, respect.

Fostering collaboration

  • Creating psychological safety and equal speaking opportunity.
  • Respect for individuals.
  • Inclusion and diversity.
  • Core Protocols: Opt-in, opt-out, law of 2 feet — creative work requires voluntary participation.
  • Prime directive: stop protecting the organization by assuming people come to the office to “rip you off.”
  • Give people a voice; provide an opportunity to be heard.

Cross-functional Teams

  • End-to-end (value) delivery capability of teams.
  • The autonomous tracking of customer value balanced with accountability.
  • Abandoning functional silos in favor of focusing on delivering value.
  • Avoidance of local optimization.
  • A cornerstone on the path to achieving business agility.

Traditional vs. Agile Leadership Behavior 

Traditional Management

  • Predictive, long-term planning
  • Control of work, task assignment
  • Maximize utilization and capacity
  • The go-to problem fixer for subordinates
  • Motivating others by extrinsic incentives (bonuses, titles, etc.)
  • Information flows up the hierarchy (reports, meetings).

Agile Leadership

  • Provision of vision, strategy, and direction
  • Fostering self-organization
  • Supporting teams by removing what is impeding them
  • Let those closest to the problem figure out a solution
  • Motivating others by enabling autonomy, mastery, and purpose
  • Management moves to where the information is, for example, by participation in Sprint Reviews.

Conclusion

We hope you managed to get the most out of this provisional list of quotes, videos, articles, concepts, notions, and ideas on agile leadership. If you like to deepen your understanding, Scrum.org offers an engaging training class on agile leadership, helping leaders understand their role in enabling agile transformation.

Barghavi

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