The Agile Leader

Elyse PlattTue, 06/11/2019 - 13:56

Agile leaders come in many forms - Scrum Masters, managers,  team leaders, Agile Coaches, etc.  In fact, everyone has an opportunity to be an agile leader.

There’s a 2016 Harvard Business Review article that states, “In a safe environment, employees can relax, invoking the brain’s higher capacity for social engagement, innovation, creativity, and ambition.”1 This is where the agile leader comes into play. An agile leader is not a caregiver, babysitter, or micro-manager. This person is one who acts in accordance with their values, demonstrates flexibility to changing circumstances, and enables amazing results to be attained.

5 Steps to Becoming an Agile Leader:

  1. Demonstrate Integrity – set an example by maintaining your say-do ratio. If you teach something, you must act accordingly. For example, if you teach others that the organization wants to embrace the Scrum framework and its values, you must also live in accordance with those values - Courage, Focus, Openness, Respect, Commitment - and continue to promote the importance of working within this framework, rather than making exceptions or excuses.

  2. Show Empathy – Listen attentively & be authentic; create a safe environment in which trust flourishes because there is open communication and collaboration, not competition and fear. Adjust your style to the employee(s) and situation; do not assume one size fits all.
  3. Challenge & Encourage Greatness – Promote individual and team development; set aside time for people to grow their skills or, if working with technical teams, encourage building improvements and technical debt fixes into new development efforts. Challenge teams to take calculated risks as a unit and succeed or fail together. Learn from both positive and difficult outcomes.
  4. Agility – Set short feedback loops for everything – employee and team performance, delivery of customer value, etc. Agile leaders need to be able to think quickly and adapt while maintaining their core values.
  5. Get Out of the Way – Set goals and expectations while allowing those doing the work the freedom to act within the boundaries and ability to drive solutions. You are a coach and leader; position people for maximum impact so they are engaged and harnessing their strengths, then let them run and deliver results. If you are not a formal “leader” in your organization, this is where you can take ownership of the work and coach leaders to understand how your role can make a difference.

This should all sound familiar if you work in an agile environment. Empowered, self-organizing teams in which interactions and people come before tools and processes; collaboration, ability to shift gears, and frequent delivery comes before extensive paperwork and plans. Keep serving your team and the greater organization to enable amazing results; put others needs before your own agenda; develop trust in the workplace. Anyone can be an agile leader!

1 Giles, Sunnie. “The Most Important Leadership Competencies, According to Leaders Around the World.” Harvard Business Review, 25 Oct. 2017,