In the article, we will discuss why Agile transformation cannot solely be effective without a truly Agile Leader in the organization. We will cover what essentially is meant by Agile leadership and why there is so much talk about it. Finally, we will figure out how to embrace the Agile leader role and what effective tips and practices can help on this path.
Any organization depends on efficient leadership in its progress and achievements. In Agile, one of the principles is to decentralize the process and empower people to take up personal responsibility and become the driving force for change. Still, leaders remain the initiators to any major changes that are introduced within an organization and Agile leadership is the way to make the transition seamless and stress-free.
So, what is Agile leadership exactly, and how do you achieve it?
A Lean-Agile leader is the mediator and inspirator that passes on the Agile ethics, values, and principles, guides the process, and has the authority in decision-making. However, this doesn’t make leaders gatekeepers for progress. Quite the contrary, as we can observe in practice, they are the primary example of the changes to come, as they are leading by their own example.
The leader takes the teams through the journey.
This means that if we are looking at the big picture, a successful Agile transformation for an organization is only possible if leadership is the first to respond, embrace the change, and show others the way. Typically, you’d want to start with adopting a Lean-Agile mindset that introduces a positively new way of approaching work and projects, team relations, and management overall.
Benefits to Garner from Agile Leadership
Soon enough after the leaders start applying new principles and changing their own way of working, they start seeing tangible results in the team. Starting small, this gradually translates to large-scale changes, not only in how we work but in the results that derive from it.
Improved Culture and Employee Morale
The Agile leader adopts a growth mindset and sets the bar for the expected behavior of the entire organization. A good leader will exemplify what others should strive to achieve and drive them to follow suit, amalgamating into the company culture.
Real Commitment and Dedication to the Common Goal
The leader earns strong authority and positively transforms the organization, acquiring real commitment, and dedication to company goals and values.
Lean-Agile leadership is one of the core competencies of the Lean enterprise, which makes it essential to achieving business agility, which is the ability to react to the marketplace. In an organization, the leadership is primarily responsible for the successful adoption and improvement of practices and competencies that eventually lead to business agility. They have the authority to oversee changes. They round up and motivate people. They ensure accountability for the work being done.
The benefits that you can gain through leading the team in a new Agile way can vary depending on how quickly you move with the transition: some come right away, while others build up with time. The sooner you as a leader get on board with things, the better it’ll be for your team in the long run.
Explaining the Lean-Agile Leadership Model
The Lean-Agile leadership model has five main values that are the basis for the Agile transformation strategy in an organization:
- Challenge is necessary to set up people for success as they are alert to changes and take responsibility for the work being done.
- Kaizen’s mindset focuses on solving problems rather than following instructions.
- Being part of the team is necessary for any leader as it establishes efficient communication and builds trust. Likewise, a leader who is close to the team knows their needs and better understands the work process and challenges that may arise.
- Facilitate teamwork to ensure that the team works in harmony and is highly motivated.
- Show respect to people that you work with and acknowledge their work and expertise, making them feel valued as an essential part of the company. Seek not only to lead but to learn from others as well.
Being an Agile leader in many ways is finding the right balance between leading and allowing yourself to be led. This is not a one-man show, so it’s important to recognize and take in what the people you work with can give you and how they can influence you to become a better leader.
Embracing the Role of a Lean-Agile Leader
In Agile, there is a great emphasis on personal responsibility and every team member’s active involvement in the work process. Of course, this means that the requirements of expected behavior are even more so demanding for the leader. However, this is the exact essence of Agile leadership and management principles.
Becoming an Agile leader requires the person to manifest certain behavioral patterns and character features that make them suitable for the role. Some of these are:
- Long-term thinking
- Ability to self-reflect
- Continuous striving for improvement
- Curiosity and life-long learning
- Emotional intelligence
These are personality traits that set the foundation for the most important one—keeping the focus on providing value to the customer.
- The responsibility of an Agile leader in the team is to:
- Organize the team around the common value
- Eliminate waste and delays
- Inspire and motivate
- Create a culture of continuous improvement
- Provide space for innovation
- Delegate and empower team members
This is the way to efficient Agile management that results in remarkable outcomes as the team can maximize the value delivered to the customer. And a satisfied customer means more business for the company.
Hands-on Tips to Become a Lean-Agile Leader
Remember to incorporate Lean-Agile leadership principles in your every day and continuously improve your skills and relations with others. Here are a few more tips to help you become an efficient Lean leader to your team:
- Don’t micro-manage, but rather create an environment that enables the team to become self-sufficient and self-managed.
- Educate yourself first. Leadership education and mentoring come as a crucial part of an organization’s Agile transformation. If you want to lead others, become someone worth following first. Take up a C-level course or find a mentor to help you get proper training and look into suitable certification courses.
- Encourage others in their growth. You want your team to always learn and improve. Let them be bold in their opinions and ideas. Let them experiment. This way you not only get excellent employees but also raise new leaders.
- Maintain constant communication with your team. This may mean meeting every day. A leader needs to be present, not as much to control the team but to keep it aligned regarding the tasks in progress, and facilitate their work. A good practice is to have a daily stand-up meeting where each team member reports on the work done, what is in progress, and if there are any blockers to be addressed.
- Check your progress. Monitoring the workflow may help you identify early any possible issues that may hinder the timely delivery of the tasks. Point the team in the right direction and help them work more efficiently. Constantly seek to improve the team’s output and value stream
- Circle back feedback regularly. A part of being a leader is keeping notice and acknowledging the team’s performance. Give credit where credit is due and stay alert when someone starts to slip. And remember the rule of thumb to praise in public and handle blunders in private.
- And lastly, always remember respect.
Agile Leaders perform a job that cannot be delegated. They need to “lead by example” and empower their team to unveil their potential to the fullest. A team can only go as far as the leader sees. Moreover, Agile leadership is about building trust with the people. It's gained continuously and over longer periods of time but can be easily lost, which places this role in a sensitive and demanding position. Lean-Agile leadership is essentially the new approach that makes business agility achievable and helps set the team on the right path. That is why it’s important for an Agile leader to adopt the right mindset and not just check the boxes but live and breathe Agile.