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Like many of our clients and programme participants, you too may find your team members are demanding more from you as a leader. The Millennial workforce is different from any previous generation regarding their desires and motivations.

As organisations grapple with constant change, some are looking to their IT colleagues and the philosophy of ‘Agile’ to support their evolution.

The term Agile Leadership has been around for a few years now, yet if you’re not working in an IT department you may be wondering what it’s all about.

Following the creation of the ‘Agile’ way of working, the philosophy is now growing in popularity across all organisational functions.

In this article we will explore what agile working means, how it relates to leadership, and what are some of the qualities of an ‘agile’ leader.


What Does ‘Agile’ Mean In The Context Of Working?

‘Agile’ as we know it today, stemmed from a book that Jeff Sutherland, the co-author of the Agile Manifesto read, about 100 lean hardware companies. Each company had identified that while they saw themselves first as being lean,  they had become agile by involving their customers directly in the product creation process. They did this to respond to constantly evolving and increasingly complex customer needs.

‘Agile’ describes a way of working based on four values or philosophies as they are often referred to, that puts the customer at the centre of product innovation. They are:

  • People over processes and tools.
  • Prototypes over documentation.
  • Responding to change over following a plan.
  • Customer collaboration over rigid contracts.

The idea of ‘Agile’ working is now spreading beyond IT departments and across organisations, because software and technology has become such a critical business driver.


What Is Agile Leadership?


The question is, how does ‘agile’ relate to leadership?

So, if IT developers put clients at the centre of what they do, then leaders can put their focus on their clients too, i.e. their team members, manager, and other key stakeholders.

Let’s start with team members.

An ‘agile’ leader puts their team members first; they listen to them and acknowledge their thoughts and ideas. They support them so that they achieve their work and personal goals, involve them in decisions where appropriate, and build a sense of community within their teams.

By investing their time in individuals and the team collectively, stronger bonds form, trust builds, and ultimately you have a more engaged team.

I can’t think of many leaders who wouldn’t want that, can you?

Historically, it’s fair to say that a command and control style of management has been adopted by many organisations. However, the ‘agile’ way of working based around the four values and
a wider set of principles and practices means it’s a radical alternative to what many leaders are
used to.

So what’s so different you may be wondering? Well, as opposed to working in functional silos, people work in self-managed and customer focused multi-disciplinary teams. As a result, this agile approach is accelerating growth and helping to create a new generation of skilled managers.

Companies such as Amazon, Facebook, Tesla and Spotify are all realising the benefits of agile working across a variety of functions, including manufacturing and distribution.


What Are Some Of The Qualities Of An Agile Leader?


1. Know how to build a high performing team

If you’re spending your time firefighting, you can’t be an agile leader as it won’t allow you to be responsive to opportunities, or to be strategic. However, when you have a high performing team who can operate effectively without you constantly overseeing them, you’ll be available to respond to opportunities that your team and the wider business bring to you.


2. Willing to try new ideas and don’t fear failure

An agile leader isn’t afraid to make mistakes and creates a culture and environment for their team where it’s safe for new ideas to be tested. The emphasis here is on testing small improvements and doing it at speed. This way mistakes are made quickly, lessons are learned, changes are made and results delivered. You can begin to realise why some of the companies mentioned earlier have grown at the pace they have, can’t you!


3. Emotionally Intelligent

Let’s think about it. If an agile leader puts people at the centre of what they do, this includes collaborating with colleagues and customers. To do this, you need to be able to connect with and understand what’s important to them. This means that people and conversations take precedent over processes and collaborating with customers comes above contract negotiation.

The nature of business today means that there will be hurdles to overcome and barriers to break down. Being emotionally intelligent enhances a leader’s agility as it allows them to build strong relationships,which means they’re able to navigate whatever challenges they face so that they achieve their goals.


4. Be Decisive

Contrary to what many people think, we make decisions based on emotion. However, we use data to back up our ‘gut’ feeling. Great leaders make decisions fast. They constantly look for information and data and use it when needed to make decisions, no matter how big or small.
Developing your agility as a leader is key to your success. If you recognise that you have some gaps when you think about yourself and these four qualities, what are the gaps and what do you plan to do about it?



Nic Hallett


About Excel Communications

Excel Communications has a 30+ year history as a global leadership and communication skills organisation dedicated to exceeding the expectations of clients through the training and development of their business and people.

We have a team of expert trainers delivering programmes across four continents in multiple languages. Isn’t it time you got in touch? Call us now on +44 (0) 1628 488 854.