What Does it Mean to be an Agile Leader | Fierce


With the constant state of change in today’s world, leaders must be agile. This means they’re flexible, able to move quickly, learn from mistakes and keep going, collaborate with others, and stay open to all the possibilities. So how does one do all these things?

The concept of agile started as a way of project managing in the IT industry, but the term is used ubiquitously today, including describing a style of leadership. Yet, very few people understand what it means to be an agile leader. Agile leadership is a management style characterized by being calm in the face of pressure, being open to innovation and new ways of problem-solving, involving and inspiring employees, and keeping teams on the right path.

At the heart of Agile leadership is being adaptive and resilient in the face of great change.

To continue to move forward and grow, leaders must learn to lead their teams through an environment of constant change. By prioritizing people over processes, focusing on customer needs, and seeing change as adding value. Organizations and leaders not only survive but thrive in times of change. Agile leaders are more compassionate, democratic, and inclusive leaders. They give their teams the why and trust them to discover and deliver on the how.

They provide their teams with the autonomy to self-manage and the power to be creative and experiment. Really think outside the box and not be afraid to make mistakes.

The goal of Agile leadership is to create an environment in which employees feel trusted, empowered, and motivated to strive for the best results.

Here are eight key practices of agile leaders

1. Define and align on a clear vision, a unifying purpose. Decisions need to be made across your team that align with a common goal. Without a clear purpose, how do you know what’s important? Be sure your team understands the value you deliver.

Being aligned on a clear vision will focus your team on its key priorities, ensure better collaboration and keep them on track.

2. Insist on open, transparent communication in all directions. Agile leaders practice and foster open communication with their teams, which in turn encourages team members to communicate more effectively with one another. Information needs to be available to everyone in every direction, top-down, bottom-up, and across teams and functions. Team members are empowered to make decisions, and transparent communication allows employees to have the information they need to make quick decisions with confidence.

3. Listen and be fully present. This means putting away your phone, maybe even your laptop. Minimize other distractions and fully commit to being with the other person or people in front of you. Actively listen to what it is that’s being said and seek to understand the meaning and intent behind the message.

Ask yourself are you listening to understand? Are you able to paraphrase what someone just shared with you, or are you listening to respond by already preparing your next thought in your head?

Active, intentional listening makes the other person feel heard and valued.

This skill is the foundation of a successful conversation in any setting as it builds trust, leading to stronger relationships

4. Ask questions, lots of questions. Agile leaders are curious and facilitate conversations to bring in diverse perspectives. In fact, Google conducted a research study called Project Oxygen to determine what made their most effective managers great. They surveyed over 80,000 managers and in this study, they identified 10 traits that were common among their most effective managers. The number one trait being a good coach, which Google defined as asking questions and listening.

5. Connect with your team, show you care about them, and support their well-being. I call this being human. Acknowledge that change can be hard and emotional. Agile leaders recognize that there’s a personal and human side of change.

Change is often uncomfortable, leading to resistance within ourselves and others, even when the need to move on is clear.

6. Inspire creativity and innovation. As an agile leader, you must create an environment for success by allowing room to try out new ideas, make mistakes, to even allow for failure. You’re encouraging small experiments that generate feedback for better action and quickly adjust to changes, which allows your teams to respond and adapt to challenges more quickly and easily.

7. Be adaptable. Adaptability is about having ready access to a range of behaviors that enable leaders to shift and experiment as things change. Take every opportunity to listen to feedback. Learn from that feedback and use it to adapt your approach. Configure your own reaction. How well do you respond and change? Do you accept it as positive, or at least as an opportunity? Do you adjust your management style to changing situations? Are you able to admit personal mistakes, learn from them, and move on? Adaptable people are willing to challenge themselves when their circumstances change and are consistently focused on improvement.

8. Be flexible. Flexibility is an invaluable asset to your business. Whether you’re able to adapt to the changing market or to changing conditions, your teams will be able to adjust more quickly, giving you a competitive advantage. Practically, look at how the world around you is changing and how you might be able to proactively make business changes that will better your team for success. Emotionally, think about your own approach. Sometimes this is the most challenging part for leaders. Many have difficulty changing their own tendencies when they’re set in certain ways. Flexibility requires leaders to think more empathetically. How can I better listen to my team and be open to new ideas?

Becoming an Agile leader may require a deep cultural transformation.

It is human-focused where you’re instilling an entrepreneurial drive in every employee. Managers and team members must take joint ownership of the team goals, decision-making, and performance. Teams need to collaborate, come to alignment, and develop effective feedback frameworks.

As a leader, you’re responsible for creating this environment, and you must connect people to their purpose at work. Good ideas will arise when you encourage learning and development as a cultural touchstone and encourage diversity to enable new ways of thinking about strategies to accomplish goals and overcome challenges.

Conversation, feedback, and creating an environment of growth are at the core. If you’re familiar with any of the fierce methodologies, you know that this is at the heart of Fierce. Learning and developing the skills to have effective conversations that move people forward, creating environments of transparency and trust where people can bring their best to their workplace so they will take risks in generating new ideas.

For more information about how fierce brings agile leadership to life in an organization, check out Fierce Team, Fierce Feedback, and Fierce Delegate Programs.

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