On the essence of Agile Leadership

By on March 13, 2020

The essence of agile leadership – in my view – is to ensure that each and every person has the maximum freedom to perform (the circles) as well as the maximum opportunity to contribute (the connection to objectives). Systemically in a free forming network of people aligned to meet a set of shared objectives.

The job of the leader is to ensure the appropriate means ($) and a clear set of objectives (*). The leader supports (=) and helps remove impediments (lightening).

Supporting means nudging and stimulating (the small arrows below) – directly or indirectly the journey towards meeting the set objectives.

It’s not the job of the leader to set the objectives, but to ensure that they are present and that everyone is aligned to those. It’s not the job of the leader to control the means, but to encourage that wise economic choices are made.

It’s the obligation of each person to ensure optimal conditions to perform and contribute, subject to agreed objectives. It requires system intelligence to achive this objective and steer clear of personal subobtimization.

These conditions (the box) forms the structure around the individual and is shaped by physical as well as immaterial conditions: buildings, organization, how work is shaped, how money is allocated, values, principles, other people/the ‘network’ … all of that. Each and every person has a personal responsibility to make sure that the structure around them offers the needed support and fits the challenges that needs to be adressed. The job of the leader is to support each and everyone in that – and ultimately own the structure from a system perspective.

A leader may not be physically present as long as the system – the network of people – acts socially and economically as if there was one.

Agile leadership can be ‘self leadership’ or take any other form as long as it leads to the desired outcomes.

Agile leadership is hard to define precisely. It’s not present in an organization – a freeforming network of people – if enough of these symptoms are dominating:

  • Quality is poor
  • Trust is low
  • Transparancy is low
  • Customers are deflecting
  • People are stressed or disengaged
  • The organization is overloaded
  • Priorities are not clear
  • Siloes and suboptimization rules
  • Decisionmaking is ineffective
  • Value delivery is unpredictable or poor
  • Systemic painpoints and impediments are not dealt with
  • Survivability is low

Without agile leadership you cannot really claim to be agile …

Essentially agile leadership is taking care of people, so that people take care of the business. In many ways, agile leadership is nothing more than good leadership – the believe in the unlimited potential in people given the best opportuity to grow.


PS: The illustration of the journey supported by ‘little arrows’ helped me get my head around many ‘agile leadership’ definitions – they often appeared to me as a random collection of things – until I got the idea that they are all good things when introduced in the right context at the right time – all serving the higher level objective of supporting the individual or collective journey towards meeting common objectives.



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