What does agile leadership mean and why does it matter?

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Written by Nancy J. Chavira, Freelance writer at Lucky Assignments and Gum Essays

Agile organisations, agile leadership, Scrum, squads, and any other terms used in workplaces are new concepts for working in new ways, and they require new leadership styles. This article explores the subject of agile leadership, how it came about, how it works in the organisation and its benefits.

In the workspace, individuals, employees, and managers all operate better when they have a level of security and clear boundaries, or the reptile brain will warn us from any instance where something doesn’t feel right and we are psychologically insecure. In the workplace, this can mean predictability of the work, while for others the security comes from autonomy in making decisions within an organisation and knowing the limits. Because of this, great leadership is a mix of being available to your team emotionally while still setting clear boundaries.  

What is the role of agile leaders?

Leadership and boundary setting can be found in people everywhere in the workplace if someone has responsibility over something, and it is not limited to managers, directors, and team leads. In fact, this concept is explained by Amy R. McGreer, a business writer known for her work at Last Minute Writing and Draft Beyond: “self-management at its core doesn’t usually exist because there are always going to be those who take the lead and shape it so that there can be defines rules, values, and levels of freedom. Even organisations that don’t have strict hierarchies still have leaders at all levels.”

Boundaries in agile organisations

The most common type of agile organisation is Scrum, which is highly structured. This structure benefits everyone because the customer or owner has an obvious need and the process that must occur. That person is in charge of what is going to happen to solve that problem, and the order of the problem solving. There are also budgets and time allotment which create more boundaries, as well as stakeholders. In an agile organisation, the team is very free to proceed in the how of the process so long as they stay within those fixed boundaries. This means that they decide how they solve the customer’s problem, and they use feedback to develop the solution in the way that maximises the customer’s experience.  

According to Paula Higgins, a project manager at Research Papers UK and Writinity, she explains that “if the boundaries are too restrictive, you won’t have much initiative in the team. Every minute decision will be made by the customer and the team won’t be engaged. If the boundaries are too wide, it can usually still work well with a Scrum team that’s well established, because the boundaries become more clear in time.”

Becoming an agile leader

If there is a lack of clarity or transparency, the team won’t know what strategic direction to take the process into, so agile leaders need to be the ones to step in with boundaries. The important thing here is to communicate clearly and lead by example. Being a good agile leader means finding the balance between not being too restrictive with the boundaries and giving their teams enough freedom. It’s important to show confidence in the team and promote psychological security.  

Being agile also means that you have to be able to let go of what doesn’t work and try another approach. It can be hard to let go of our beliefs but agile leaders have learned to challenge their beliefs and their assumptions so they can adapt to the current situation and stay ahead of the game. It’s also very important to have agile leaders and organisation that can adapt to the digital economy today. Digital trends are disrupting the old way of operating and organisations need to be able to stay relevant in the digital age.  

To be clear about boundaries and transparent about all assignments and roles is extremely important in an agile organisation, but it’s an interesting balance. Only when the boundaries are clear and not too restrictive can teams feel like they can help the customer in the best way. The agile leader’s role is to create that clarity or keep the boundaries loose but defined. To do that, it’s important to understand the organisation’s purpose, mandate and values.

Nancy J. Chavira is a freelance writer at Lucky Assignments and Gum Essays

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