Why Agile leadership is needed now more than ever

Three women sitting at table talking

Written by David McCreery, Consultant Project Manager, Althris

Organisations are dealing with change at a massively accelerated pace. Few can escape this disruptive influence but many need to re-think how to operate in this new dynamic – something Agile leaders are ideally equipped to manage.

Traditionally, change has been initiated from the top. Someone in a senior role has a great idea and asks: “how can we get everyone behind it?” But this type of approach has not only failed far too often, it no longer has a place in today’s working environment where a new generation of employees interact differently.

Rather than a top-down directive, change needs to harness the whole of an organisation. Senior management still has a role to play, but for change to be truly effective it needs to be a bottom-up process.

The Agile difference

In my experience, too much effort still goes into thinking about how to get people to change and follow one way of thinking dictated from on high. I’ve also found that organisations talk a great deal about poor communication as the reason for an initiative’s failure. Again, we need to turn this on its head.

Agile leadership is about listening, not communicating down. It asks: “how do I gather the experiences of customers, staff and managers and how do I use that to enable change within the organisation and make it stronger?”

So, senior managers need to see what’s going on at grassroots level; it’s about getting involved, encouraging contributions from everyone and acting on what’s being said. Of course, that’s a lot easier said than done but it’s the role of an Agile leader to make it happen.

Mindset for change

One very practical way to encourage this new pattern of positive behaviour is to ask for ideas of what changes the team would like to make and – crucially – can implement themselves. From the initial round of suggestions, it is then up to the team to determine which one or two are the most viable.

This technique should not be confused with a “laissez-faire” style of management. It’s not a question of just letting the team decide – that wouldn’t be Agile. Rather, an Agile leader offers support by removing bottlenecks, but most importantly articulates where the organisation is going and guides the team towards this broad vision.

You then start to shift the mindset within an organisation and, ultimately, by changing patterns of behaviour will make it stronger. Inspiring every employee to think about what can be done to improve performance and encouraging active leadership can only be of benefit in the long-term. That’s Agile!


However, although Agile leaders need to have the emotional intelligence to listen, this shouldn’t be confused with being “warm and fuzzy”.

So inspire and encourage ideas, but be rooted in core principles, which provide the necessary boundaries for project development. At the end of the day, how an initiative contributes and when should always be top of mind.

Originally posted here.

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