How Do You Foster Agile Leadership?

Much is published on agile leadership and the business imperative behind it. Who a leader should be, what they should do and why it is needed permeates the literature. Less is published on the far greater challenge – how do we actually get there? And how do you ensure that all levels of leadership, from frontline to CEO are committed to growing an agile organisation?

Most companies are not flexible enough to compete successfully, although business responsiveness is seen as key to global success. When IBM interviewed over 1500 CEOs, the top factor to succeeding in this turbulent environment was how to embody creative leadership through embracing ambiguity, taking risks that challenge the status quo, instituting new management styles and making faster decisions.

How do organisations develop a culture of agile leadership?

In today’s environment, there is a need for teams to constantly learn and adapt through authentic engagement and open-mindedness, and for leaders to behave differently to energise, empower and enable teams to achieve competitive advantage.

Leadership change often focuses on process change rather than people change. I believe that true transformational change starts with helping people change.

Creating a culture of agile leadership requires an organisation to:

  • Define and develop agile leadership
  • Support behavioral change with just-in-time tools
The first step is to define and communicate what agile leadership looks like

I have observed teams where it was seen as enough for a leader to be “supporting” an agile initiative or attending an agile ceremony to show face. I knew this was not enough. Leaders need to really embrace agile values, principles and practices to truly be inspired and to inspire others.

The first step in developing a culture of agile leadership is to define and communicate what agile leadership looks like for your organisation. It’s important to remember that what works for one organisation might not work for another. Do leaders know how to form teams? Can they act with influence and impact? Do they have the skills to listen and learn from others? Do they know how to baseline performance and measure uplift?

Spotify is a great example of building your own brand of agile leadership: after a not-so-favourable experience with Scrum, Spotify developed and implemented a leadership framework that was heavily influenced by agile methodologies AND the cultural values the company held dear.

People need to permission to change to be energised by a new way of working. The culture of an organisation is driven from the top; effective change is driven by consistent communication of values, principles and practices across the organisation.

It’s important to remember that leadership communication flows two ways – each opportunity to tell is an opportunity to listen.

Building leadership practices into a simple, memorable statement and DNA is a great way to clarify and simplify leadership expectations and ensure strong coherence to the cultural values of your organisation.

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