Agile leadership

Nowadays, agile culture is affecting not just the internal teams‘ structure but also the whole department or organization. This milestone on Agility adoption (coined as „Organizational Agility“) maximizes some typical problems like the Leader/Manager role definition. Therefore, it can become a central issue applying agile values and principles beyond the team.

There is no unique way to accommodate the traditional leader role. On the one hand, it has affected the training offered by big education providers like Scrum Alliance which recently created a leadership course, or it is directly built into the framework as it is in SaFE. On the other hand, Nexus or LeSS bet on an organic approach or an organizational de-scaling.

In my view, although Nexus’ and LeSS’ approaches respect the Agile values, we would need a much more mature industry that could apply them. Meanwhile, I’m more on the Scrum Alliance side, meaning that we can help our current managers and leaders to get into the agile mindset.

Following that idea, here you can find some agile-friendly leadership models to use.


Agile values ​​and principles

The best references can be found in the Agile manifesto ’s principles and values.

Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.

It seems obvious, but this principle doesn’t say that you create projects around managers. Additionally, it says „motivated individuals“ as an explicit reference to intrinsic motivation; You give them the environment and support, but the motivation is naturally there, just do not ruin it.

The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.

Be careful, „self-organizing“ and „self-managing“ are equivalent in this context. Furthermore, this is quite clear: You don’t manage the team. However, the way the sentence is structured is not very direct, and you may understand it like an objective. If you do so, the Situational Leadership theory or Shuhari may be appropriate references. Even tough, again, don’t forget that the goal is self-managing teams. Remember, you can always find patronizing excuses to stop the team’s development and become the impediment of self-organization.

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.

It values human relations („interactions“) more than assigned roles („processes“). Therefore, it recognizes emergent leaders: team members that lead in non-official networks or assume the role spontaneously.

Turn the Ship Around: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders by David Marquet

You can learn some great insights from this book . Here you have a shortcut:

These points I would like to remark:

  1. It is a pity that you can not be Russell Crowe. 😉
  2. Psychological ownership belongs to the team.
  3. Competence and clarity are the „give control“ pillars. They are very aligned with Dan Pink’s motivation theory.
  4. Move the authority to where you have the information.
  5. Create leaders.
  6. You’ll feel wrong. You’ll be angry at yourself.

Emergent leadership

When you see a problem you step in to fix it. When the problem is resolved or your part of it is resolved, you step back and let somebody else move in.

– Laszlo Bockformer SVP of People at Google

I love this kind of leadership. Following this pattern, the team isn’t going to be constrained by the assigned leader’s skill set but by the best skills in the whole team. The essential and challenging part resides in the second sentence; the trust based environment that is needed to stimulate people handing over the leadership position to somebody else who might deal better with the problem.

Learned helplessness

Learned helplessness isn’t a leadership pattern; you may consider it as a followership pattern that you need to be aware of if you want to evolve into a self-managing team.

This phenomenon undermines people’s capacity to work outside their role description. It limits people’s potential, or on the other side of the coin, it creates a very reactive perception of authority. Such destructive behaviour may be based on the Hanlon’s razor: „Leaders are superior but they are still failing, so they must be evil.“

Derek Sivers‘ First Follower

I only would like to remark the video’s conclusions:

„So first, if you are the type, like the shirtless dancing guy that is standing alone, remember the importance of nurturing your first few followers as equals so it’s clearly about the movement, not you.“

„Leadership is over-glorified. Yes, it was the shirtless guy who was first, and he’ll get all the credit, but it was really the first follower that transformed the lone nut into a leader. So, as we’re told that we should all be leaders, that would be really ineffective.“

„If you really care about starting a movement, have the courage to follow and show others how to follow. And when you find a lone nut doing something great, have the guts to be the first one to stand up and join in.“


5 Gedanken zu „Agile leadership

  1. I like your article! I have to live that every day! When you have an idea and when you believe it helps someone, then do it! Throw away some non needed approvement processes, make an prototype, switch a process and show us the results from that, we want learn how that idea produces benefits!

    But i can enrich your article a little bit from my perspective!

    There exists some well known challenges today. From my perspective an agile approach needs people with the needed hard skills and the soft skills to maximize its customers needs, it needs an talent!

    A talent needs soft skills to be prepared to learn, who is his customer and how to satisfy them. He should learn what are the customers needs and how to maximize these needs. He must be enabled to be open to learn what kind of work maximizes his customers needs and how to increase its satisfaction level. A talent needs hard skills to learn and understand what is the needed toolkit to be enabled to create the customers maximized benefits with the own correct type of work!

    One of the biggest questions to me is what is a valid and successful approach to teach an colleague to act as an talent!

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