Agile Leadership

Agile Leadership: What is it & Why Does it Matter?

7 min read
Lynsey May Sutherland
Lynsey Sutherland

In a world that’s forever changing and throwing up new challenges, it’s essential that organisations are able to react and evolve quickly and efficiently. Sadly, that’s not quite as easy as it sounds. 

Agile leadership is a management style that makes this flexibility and resilience possible for businesses of all sizes. And just in time. Change is the new constant and according to Gartner, the average organisation has undertaken five major firm-wide changes in the past three years – and expects even more to come. Are you in a position to successfully negotiate a changing landscape? Here’s how agile leaders can help. 

What is agile leadership? 

Agile leadership is a way of leading that helps remove roadblocks and clear the pathway to success for empowering teams and organisations.

It’s a leadership style that’s attentive and adaptable, allowing for flexibility and ingenuity to solve problems and drive productivity. Traditional organisations tend to have a harder time adopting agile leadership principles, but it’s not impossible!

What are the benefits of being an agile leader? 

While being a truly agile leader isn’t always easy, it has some big benefits for businesses. The biggest being: 

Resilient organisations 

Agility creates resilience because it means businesses are better able to embrace transformation and react to it in a positive way. It makes it easier for people to cope with uncertainty or change, due to its reactive yet confident nature. 

Impactful decision making

Drawing on data and using the information available at any given time, agile leaders make impactful and improved decisions. They’re able to make the best decisions possible in the shortest amount of time, essential in fast-paced sectors. 

Empowered teams

Agile leaders are also particularly good at empowering their teams. They put the focus on finding the right skills and solution for any experience and allow their teams to experiment and develop their talents. 

Traditional vs. agile organisations – what’s the difference? 

Many traditionally led businesses find themselves hamstrung by bureaucracy or bogged down by the thought that things have to be done or dealt with in a certain way. They also tend to be led almost exclusively from the top, which can stifle new talent or lead to a lack of fresh ideas. 

Businesses with an agile leadership style are much more likely to be highly adaptive and looking for solutions that work now, rather than feeling that they have to follow strict guidelines. They also leave space for innovation and aren’t scared to make change when necessary – which is extremely important for organisational evolution and growth. 

Agile leaders are also better placed when it comes to building customer-centric cultures. They are reactive to feedback and data in a way that allows them to create and tailor better experiences for both customers and employees. 

Agile Leadership

The keys to agile leaders 

We know that becoming an agile leader can feel like a big task. PMI found that while 92% percent of C-level executives believe that organisational agility, or the ability to rapidly respond to market conditions and external factors, is critical to business success, only 27% considered themselves highly-agile. But don’t worry, there’s plenty you can do to make the change. 

To practice agile leadership, you need to foster an environment that’s ready for innovation and change. Here are some of the key areas to work on if you know you need to be more agile as an organisation.  

Become comfortable with uncertainty

Uncertainty comes with the territory, especially in a volatile economy or changing environment. Ensuring your people have the fortitude and training to cope with a changing landscape is crucial to the success of agile leadership.

Create a learning culture

In an agile culture, employees may be asked to do things they aren’t used to or may face new situations frequently. One of the best ways to ensure they’re prepared for this is to create a learning culture. 

Learning and employee development should be at the core of your business, allowing you to make the most of the talent you have, while also creating open and resilient mindsets. 

Adopt a people-first approach

To be able to lead teams through change, you need to show them that you appreciate their various needs and priorities. Traditional styles of management can be less demanding on employees, who are able to rely on bureaucracy and feelings of safety in sameness, so a human-centric approach is a great way to help them adjust.

Agile leaders focus on people, which means they tend to be the most high-performing and (positively) disruptive, because it helps them ensure they have invested and engaged employees.

Be responsive to change 

When new challenges appear, those who practice agile leadership are quick to assess the situation and eager to make changes. Agile leadership is the antithesis to getting stuck in the mud or overly caught up in the ways things have been done in an organisation in the past.

The ability to lead change with confidence, strength and clear messaging to other stakeholders is absolutely crucial, with Gartner reporting that half of change initiatives fail, and only 34% are a clear success.

Encourage collaboration 

A workforce that’s able to collaborate is one of the most important factors when it comes to a successful agile transformation. Not only do teams need to be able to collaborate and communicate well to ensure that everyone understands and is on board with changes, but they also need to be working well together without close management.  

Why? Because the Harvard Business Review found that in businesses that had transitioned to agile leadership, the leaders had quadrupled the time spent on strategy (from 10% to 40%) and reduced the time spent on operations management by more than half (from 60% to 25%). 

Reward and recognise

To create a team that embraces an agile mindset and is responsive and eager to embrace change, you need to nurture and recognise those skills. A rewards and recognition programme that makes space for celebrating wins along the way will be incredibly useful. 

Create frequent shout outs for people who have been great at collaborating, give someone a boost if they’ve managed to cope with an unexpected change to working processes, and always celebrate learning achievements.

Positive feedback and encouragement not only provides great motivation, but it can also help people cope with the kind of evolution necessary for high-performing businesses. 

Mo is a new kind of reward and recognition platform that makes it easy for busy managers to meaningfully recognise, engage and connect with their teams.

Cross Functional Agile Leadership

Who can be an agile leader?

Within a true agile leadership model, anyone within a company can become an agile leader. The idea of agile leadership is a mindset and approach that can be embraced by individual contributors as well as those in managerial servant leadership positions. Agile organisations encourage all levels of the company to adopt agile concepts:

Managers and Executives:

Agile managers and executives empower their teams to make decisions and experiment, providing support and guidance when needed.

Team Leads and Project Managers

Team leads and project managers are the ones mainly responsible for projects and initiatives. By adopting Agile leadership, they can encourage better communication, ensure clear goals and objectives, and give their teams the ownership to make their own decisions.

They focus on removing obstacles, promoting collaboration, and promoting continuous improvement.

Individual Contributors

Agile leadership is not restricted to those in management positions. Individual contributors, regardless of their role, can adopt leadership qualities by taking ownership, taking initiative, and influencing positive change. They actively contribute to the agile mindset by showing their commitment to adaptability and a willingness to learn and grow.

Cross-functional Teams

One of the principles of agile leadership is the idea of using cross-functional teams, where individuals from different disciplines work together towards a common goal.

In a cross-functional team, team members may take turns to lead based on their strengths and expertise. Agile leaders in cross-functional teams encourage collaboration, transparency, and promote trust and accountability.

Agile Coaches and Scrum Masters

Agile coaches and Scrum Masters can facilitate the adoption of agile principles. They provide guidance, training, and support to teams and individuals, helping them better understand the complexities of agile practices.

Ultimately, anyone with a passion for embracing agile values can become an agile leader. It is not limited to a specific position or title but rather a mindset that encourages continuous learning, adaptability, and a focus on delivering customer satisfaction and value.

Agile leaders inspire and empower others, promote collaboration, and foster a culture of innovation and continuous improvement.

How to make your teams agile

Creating an agile transformation in your company is essential for successfully implementing agile methodologies and achieving your goals.

In order to promote agile leadership, focus on the following:

  • Foster cross-functional collaboration
  • Define clear roles and responsibilities
  • Create a supportive environment
  • Ensure transparent communication
  • Promote self-organisation
  • Encourage continuous learning

Business agility means creating a culture in which leaders at all levels are unafraid to question the status quo, where actions speak louder than words, and where greater autonomy is devolved to teams.

How can Mo help build agile teams?

At Mo, we can help you build an agile organisational culture by equipping managers with weekly suggestions to energise and connect with their people, help teams build self awareness and habits of recognition into their day-to-day rhythms and go beyond simple rewards as a way to motivate staff.

Join companies like SHL, OVO Energy and William Hill in delivering meaningful improvement on engagement results with Mo. Book a free demo today!

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Mo is a new kind of reward and recognition platform that makes it easy for busy managers to meaningfully recognise, engage and connect with their teams.

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