In a changing world, the ways we work and lead are shifting.

Traditional leadership and management styles presume a stable market, where organizations and their people can predict and react to changes in the market before or as they occur. These leadership styles are designed for hierarchical organizations, where the leader works as a guide for the organization. However, markets today are no longer stable and predictable, and organizations are becoming increasingly flat, meaning that the demands placed on leaders have changed.

As the demands on leaders change, new styles of leadership are emerging. Agile leadership, or leadership inspired by agile principles, is an increasingly popular leadership style that can help to geat ahead drive success in today’s ever-changing world.

What is Agile?

Agile is a method first developed for the software industry, based on the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. It is focused on iterative and incremental development of new products, working close to the customers, responding to change, and focusing on individuals and teams instead of on processes, with focus on delivering value to the customer.

Due to the rapid pace of software development, agile ways of working are designed to thrive in changing, ambiguous markets. Today, agile methodologies can be used outside the software market to help organizations adapt to change as it happens.

What, then, does it mean to lead in an agile way?

Leadership inspired by agile values

The Agile Manifesto identifies “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools” as one of the core values behind an agile approach.  Simply put, this means that people and their ability to drive processes in an organization should be valued more than the processes themselves. So, talent should be highly valued and nurtured, and abilities should be recognized and utilized in order to optimize work processes.

From a leadership perspective, this means that leaders need to consider questions such as what their teams need to perform their best, and which strengths each team member has. How can the leader contribute to creating a positive working environment? Does the team need any resources, information, or support that they are currently missing? How can leaders better empower their teams?

We can also take inspiration from another agile value, “responding to change over following a plan.” With markets changing so quickly, teams need to be prepared for changes that affect their projects and plans, and should be able to quickly adapt instead of sticking to their original plan, that no longer fits the current market conditions.

For leaders, this means creating a culture where employees feel safe to admit to their failures. If teams feel safe owning up to the fact that their current plan no longer works for the current situation, then they will be better able to adapt to changes and drive better results. However, if teams don’t feel comfortable admitting that their plan may be failing, as they fear facing consequences, the likelihood that they will stick to their failing plan increases. If team members know that they work in an environment where admitting failure is okay, or even encouraged, they will be better equipped to adapt to changing market demands.

How can you be a more agile leader?

How can leaders who come from a traditional leadership mindset, where giving explicit directions, striving for perfection, and focusing on tools and processes are paramount, learn to adopt a more agile way of thinking?

  1. Make time for reflection. One of the most important steps a leader can take is to be self-reflexive. Self-reflexivity means being able to recognize your own behavior patterns and how you relate to others. The self-reflexive leader can take a step back and ask themselves what sort of work environment their behavior is cultivating, and how agile-friendly that work environment is. Create time every day to pause and reflect.
  2. Be open to feedback. It is near impossible to evaluate one’s own performance without knowing what others think. Accept and even invite feedback from your team members. Whether through one-one-one conversations, through online evaluations, or whichever medium best suits your organization, ensure that you are constantly receiving and reflecting on feedback from your colleagues.
  3. Look for failure. Do your teams run smoothly, with no issues, failures, or negativity being reported back to you? If this is the case, the feedback you are receiving is likely censored; failure is inevitable, and have employees who acknowledge their own missteps is a sign that you are moving in the right direction. If you haven’t seen or heard of any mistakes in the past few months, you may need to re-evaluate your culture.

With an agile mindset, you can harness the power of today’s ever-changing market to drive success in your organization. At Celemi, we have a long history of working with leaders to better prepare them for the challenges of tomorrow. Our business simulations give leaders the chance to reflect on their performance in a team and better understand their team dynamics – in a safe environment.

If you would like to check-in on how ready you are for an ever-changing world, try our 1-minute Agile Test. You will get direct feedback on how your way of thought aligns with different Agile values, and see the outcome of your actions.

Contact us if you would like to hear more about how we can help you improve leadership in your organization.