Agile Leadership: New Perspectives

Agile Leadership: New Perspectives

Insights | 10 April 2018

One of the main promises of Agile development was that a new ethos of empowerment would trickle down the ranks. Anyone could be a leader – in fact, everyone would be expected to be a leader in some way. The old “command-and-control” style of leadership was dead and gone.

But some Agile teams still struggle with this approach when it comes to fostering leadership. It’s not for a lack of trying, so what gives?

Agile leadership is different. It needs to start from within in order to be successful. Here are some of the key ways Agile leaders are different from other leaders.

They know trust is earned

The concept of trust is built into the original Agile Manifesto: “Build projects around motivated individuals,” it states. “Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.”[1]

Building trust requires open and continuous dialogue. Create a safe space for people to share unpopular opinions.

Furthermore, model what fair, actionable and timely feedback looks like. Leaders who admit their own mistakes – and openly solicit ideas on how to fix them – can show how candid communication can work, even when the pressure is on.

They know what ‘good’ micromanagement looks like

The clever term “AINO” means “Agile In Name Only”. It refers to organisations that say they are Agile, yet still retain many of the old structures, such as managing to the most trivial points while ignoring overall business value.

Effective Agile leaders must focus on creating an environment where great decisions can flourish. The discipline and cadence of daily standups and their recitations of work done, planned and blocked, are all about a team’s management of themselves, micro or otherwise. True leaders are not threatened by self-organisation – they welcome it.

They focus on the proactive, not the reactive

All leaders can benefit from being more proactive, but it’s especially important for Agile leaders as everyone on the team is tasked with supporting the forward momentum of the projects at hand.

That expectation puts more pressure on Agile leaders. If you cannot unblock resources or lift impediments the team surfaces to you, the team will begin to feel cynical about the future.

It’s up to the Agile leader to spark and guide the conversation for future change, even more so when things are going well. That’s when it’s easiest to wrap our arms around and cling to the status quo.

Key takeaways

Developing strong Agile leadership requires a different mindset from the top down, reactive models of yesterday.

It looks more open and more honest; more forward-looking and anticipatory around needs and roadblocks.

Perhaps by better defining what Agile leadership looks like we can inspire a new generation of forward-thinkers.

In all, consider looking closely at your own management style in relation to these concepts and find opportunities to stretch and challenge yourself and your team.

Lastly, know that change doesn’t happen overnight. So much of leadership is learned in the trenches, the so-called “School of Hard Knocks”, and that’s OK.

As Agile leader, Ash Maurya, (author of Running Lean and Creator of Lean Canvas) put it: “Life’s too short to build products no one wants.”[2]

Tell us, what does great Agile leadership look like to you?

For more information on how we can help you and your team successfully deliver projects, call us today on +65 6818 5771.

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