Article: The real shift – Agile leadership


The real shift – Agile leadership

Agile methodology became popular as an approach to software development. But the methodology has transcended to the realms of organizational leadership. A look at what Agile Leadership entails.
The real shift – Agile leadership

The world we live in today is characterized by increasing complexity and fast-paced change.  Whatever is the purpose of one’s organization – whether a business enterprise, a non-profit or even government, one will find continuous disruption due to technology and other factors. And to be effective in this environment, leaders need to change their leadership styles so as to be nimble, scan the environment continuously for opportunities and risks, and pivot as frequently as needed.  

The Agile method became popular as an approach to software development through collaboration between self-organizing and cross-functional teams and their customer/end user. Research reveals that it evolved as a response to the exceeding time and cost budgets of software projects. The methodology taught programmers to be flexible and accept changes during the development cycle and also brought in the functional users to work closely with the developers to ensure that they developed what the business needed. The benefits of Agile methodology are many but the most crucial aspects of it are: (i) A thinking that involves taking an end-to-end perspective; (ii) code releases in short sprints for users to see the progress periodically, and (iii) the comfortability with experimentation and failure. But Agile is not confined to software development anymore. The principles of the methodology have been transported to encompass organizational leadership as well. These principles enable a richer array of tools for leaders to use, tightly aligned to the needs of today’s environment.

Agile leadership enables leaders to:

Improve adaptability: In an agile world, it is less about doing the right things and more about doing things right because priorities are continuously shifting. 

Create a culture of empowerment: Leaders should be empowered to take decisions and stand by them.  

Demand continuous learning culture: Unless leaders are empowered to improve their individual content and context quotient they will not be successful.  

Ability to communicate: With 60 to 70 percent of our workforce going to be millennials in the future, it is imperative for leaders to have the presence and ability to communicate effectively across generations. Leaders need to make 1: Many and 1: 1 connects easily and early. 

The Agile mindset not only includes Intellectual Agility that is to continuously ideate and collaborate to visualize multiple future scenarios with high tolerance of ambiguity, it also comprises Emotional Agility, i.e. to control, prioritize and ability to detach from failed ideas or traditional processes to quickly move on and adapt to what is needed and working now, and also Learning Agility that is focused on Mental, People, Results and Change Agility and brings action orientation to Intellectual and Emotional Agilities. 

While failure is learning, success is an inspiration. Agile leaders demonstrate rapid success stories converting failures into opportunities. It is important to continuously experiment but institutionalize success while moving along. Leadership success needs to be measured by outcomes, not efforts. Leadership exposure and experience create or changes mindsets. Rotation of responsibilities and stretch challenges provide the learning ground for leaders, and only an adaptive strategy is relevant in today’s times.

Finally, the essence of Agile leadership is:

  • Being open to experimentation and being comfortable with failure.
  • Producing product in small batches, which means your customer can see continuous progress. 
  • Given the fluid expectations of the world today, being comfortable with starting what needs to be done even before the end goal is firmly established is crucial
  • Recognizing that progress is more important than perfection. Speed to value is the key mantra – whether in business or non-profit or public service.
  • Being comfortable with the realization that one cannot do everything – there will be limitations of time, physical resources, and team’s capabilities among others.  Given the scenario, leaders need to ruthlessly prioritize the actions that will give the highest impact in the shortest time. 


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Topics: Leadership

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