7 Best Practices to be an Agile Leader

Posted by Guthrie-Jensen Consultants

The term “agile” isn’t new in the modern business world. It started as an updated process for software developers who felt that the traditional one is too time-consuming and costly. Outside of software development, though, leadership agility is a management style that requires flexible, adaptable, and quick decision-making.

What is Agile Leadership?

There are three things that agile leaders focus on: they create and encourage a culture of experimentation and learning, collaborate with employees at any level in the organization to find and create a higher goal for the company, and create a structure to reinforce and reward the other foci.

Being agile is not just about fast leadership. It’s ultimately referring to the intentional ability of leaders to shift operations in the middle of industry changes and movements or operating landscape. This can be further explained through VUCA: Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity.

VUCA is a concept that originated from the U.S. Army War College but in the present time, it’s used as an assessment of a situation. In a fast-paced industry, you can use VUCA to make efficient approaches and sound decisions.

    • Volatility – These are the type of challenges that are undetected or unpredictable. Knowledge to approach this type of challenge might be unknown but the information is available.


    • Uncertainty – Due to its undetectable nature, you can look at what you know initially which leads you to the basics of an issue. You can always go back to its origins to work your way through.


    • Complexity – The issue has many layers. It can be interdisciplinary, or the solutions can from other variables.


  • Ambiguity – You will face instances that are completely unknown to you. For the most part, these challenges are outside of your comfort zone or beyond your scope.

7 Best Practices to be an Agile Leader(Source)

In today’s leadership landscape, new and unwanted problems may arise anytime. As a leader, it’s important to be agile and flexible to keep the team grounded and on the right track. Here are some practices that you can adapt or learn to maintain agility especially in making decisions for complex situations and in handling challenging scenarios better.

1. Keeping calm

Stress is nothing new in any kind of business environment—even agile leaders feel pressured from time to time because results always seem to be urgently needed. The difference is that the agile leader knows how to maintain grace under pressure. Some ways to manage stress include paying attention to your body’s reaction, proper breathing and meditation, and thinking in the moment.


2. Aiming for innovation

Agile leadership means valuing the ability to try out new things one at a time to improve your team’s work speed and execution. However, this goes beyond process automation—leaders must also inspire creativity and innovation from their employees, as these are essential in propelling the company forward.

Having new experiences gives you new perspective and a more extensive knowledge base, allowing you to generate fresh ideas and innovate processes and policies further.


3. Emphasis on emotional intelligence

High emotional intelligence is essential in agility as it will enable you to form stronger relationships within the team. When you have a good working (and personal, at some degree) relationship with others, you can help them push through any challenges with the project or within the organization. Connect, understand, and collaborate with the team.


4. Foreseeing trends and possible scenarios

Whatever kind of manager you are, it’s essential to keep abreast of the changes and updates in the industry. Agile leaders go outside to learn something new purposefully, especially listening to thought leaders. With each new approach learned from outside the department, company, or industry, you gain useful ideas to come up with new strategies that can resolve any problems you may encounter.


5. Adaptability

Today’s corporate landscape is fast-paced and chaotic with a lot of transformations. What worked today may not exactly be the solution for tomorrow’s challenges. Agility means being flexible, open to change and growth, and adapting quickly to different situations.  Companies need to have agile leaders and employees who can adjust and maintain competitiveness.


6. Learning and growing from mistakes

The ever-changing and uncertain environment requires leaders to learn continuously. When you have a growth mindset, you’re always looking to improve your product, services, and even yourself. Learning prepares you for anything that might happen (especially failures) and help you perfect your craft.

Another opportunity of learning can come from making mistakes. An agile leader asks the “why” of the errors, above everything else, so they can learn from it and share it with others.


7. Empowering the team to create great leaders

An agile leader needs to have a group of great leaders, or at least employees who can be empowered to become one. Being agile doesn’t mean micro-managing the team—you need to have eyes that you can rely on and can effectively manage the daily routine. However, to develop these leaders, you need to empower them first and teach them what they need to learn.


Four Values of Agile Leadership

For you to keep in step with agile leadership, here are the four values you should remind yourself with:

1. Individuals and Interactions over processes and tools

Instead of strictly sticking to the processes and tools, you should shift your leadership to a type that focuses on human interaction. It emphasizes that different views, approaches, and perspectives can help in dealing with complex situations. Humans drive your business to success and not the processes or tools. These things only assist individuals in executing certain tasks.

That said, you can save a lot of time and effort if you use a project management tool that adapts to your leadership approachnot the other way around.


2. Results over comprehensive documentation

There are times that businesses focus too much on the process and specifications while forgetting the product. Agile leadership allows you to streamline the process with utmost productivity and effectivity. Keep in mind that it doesn’t eradicate the process. It just tweaks the process to a more functioning documentation.


3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

Focus on what the customer needs. Instead of reading the fine print, deal with issues in front of you. Listen to what your customers are saying. This will give you a better idea of thinking on the spot and coming up with a fitting solution. Include them in the process of collaboration and brainstorming. If your customers are as hands on as you are, you get to address the concerns right away.


4. Responding to Change over following a plan

Agile leadership is more than executing a predefined plan. Sometimes these plans see changes as an expense and waste of time. However, agile leadership views change as something that adds value to the situation.


It’s Time to be Agile

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Leaders must adapt their leadership to these practices and combine it with VUCA. The good news is that anyone can be agile: it’s something that can be learned or taught, not something that is inherent. The fact that you’re trying and educating yourself on how to be one is already a clear indication that you have the potential to become an agile leader.

At the end of the day, addressing certain situations should always be about being responsive to the customers’ needs. It’s about making do with what you have. Skills such as creativity and resourcefulness will come in handy.

You can take another step in the right direction by taking seminars where you can learn more about agile leadership, such as Guthrie-Jensen Consultants’ Leadership Agility: The Power of Agile Leaders and Organizations. In this course, you can learn how managers can catch-up and stay ahead in this ever-changing corporate environment.

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