What is Agile Leadership and Why is it Important? | Fierce

3 employees demonstrating agile leadership principles while working on a product schedule

When was the last time you took a ski trip with a group of friends and developed a completely new leadership methodology?  Not only did it impact your business, but rippled throughout organizations throughout the globe. 

That’s the mythology behind the creation of agile leadership. Beyond a new trend in leadership styles, agile leadership has proved an effective method of generating results.

Why does agile leadership work and why is it necessary to embrace the methodology? At the heart of agile leadership is being adaptive and resilient in the face of great change. Because of many dynamics in the modern world such as technology, global change, and rapidly moving economic conditions, nothing stays stable for long.  

In fact, you hope that your own organization contributes to disruption in your industry. This means you are on the cutting edge, creating innovation and advancing above your competition. To continue to move forward and grow, you must learn to move your teams and organization to an environment of constant change.  

Unfortunately, change is uncomfortable for many people. There’s always the fear of job security or changing job descriptions in a changing environment. But being an agile leader means you are instilling your people with the ability to adapt and grow, ready to meet any challenges that lead to growth.

Agile Leadership makes bold claims and promises such as:

  • Advancements in employee autonomy driving toward problem-solving rather than waiting for leadership to solve everything for them
  • Continuous improvement among every team and department generating more efficient business practices with less waste and greater productivity
  • Greater creativity, innovation, and problem-solving ability throughout the organization
  • Collaboration within teams and across organizational silos to share information and provide valuable insights that normally would be missed
  • Motivated employees who find value in the work they do and the contribution they add to the larger organization
  • An open culture of idea sharing regardless of level within the organization leading to greater leadership development
  • A human-centered approach to work rather than a slave to rigid processes and tools
  • The Ability to respond to change even when the script calls for something different

Every leader wants to embrace these potential advantages. Imagine the progress your organization could make toward growth if only several of the promises materialized inside a fraction of your cubicles.

What are the principles of Agile Leadership?

 Agile leadership at its core is in contrast to previous top-down management styles manipulating and managing every possible action and metric. As an agile leader, you create the environment for success. Within that environment you allow room for failure because you move fast, and allow small experiments that generate feedback for better action.  

Remember the origin myth of Agile at the ski lodge. There’s more truth than myth to the story. Seventeen software development leaders were at a ski retreat, but a snowstorm prevented them from hitting the slopes. Being stuck in the lodge for several days provided an opportunity to brainstorm about creating a more effective and efficient way of bringing software to the market. 

Like all good stories, the truth may have expanded over time. However, they developed 4 values of Agile leadership with 12 basic principles. Software companies embraced those principles and other industries took notice and began embracing them as well to great success.  

Inside the software world, the former method of managing projects was through a top-down approach to management. Scope, budget, and timelines were mapped and planned before a project began. The problem with such detailed planning is it gives no room for volatile changing environments. 

Out of this discussion, Four Values emerged:

  1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  2. Working software over comprehensive documentation
  3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  4. Responding to change over following a plan


Days after the creation of those initial Four Values, they wrote:

12 principles creating the Agile Manifesto

  1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
  2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
  3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
  4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
  7. Working software is the primary measure of progress.
  8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
  10. Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.
  11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
  12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.


Do you notice any key commonalities among these 12 principles? While designed for the software industry, the principles apply to any organizational endeavor where you are developing products and services for an ever-changing marketplace.

Conversation, feedback, and creating an environment of growth are at the core. If you are familiar with any of the Fierce methodologies, you know 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 the workplace so they will take risks in generating new ideas.

The Agile Leadership Mindset

Applying the Agile Leadership principles in your organization requires you to adopt a new mindset.  

Do you remember learning about the scientific method back in your school days? In many ways, Agile Leadership is the scientific method in action. You have a goal then create a hypothesis to get there. You test to determine whether the hypothesis is verifying initial assumptions. Then you adjust. 

It’s an iterative approach to work rather than concrete plans and strategies that don’t examine results until much later in the process, when, unfortunately, change may be difficult or too late. Or, as they say in the military, “no battle plan survives contact with the enemy.”

Agile is similar to the OODA Loop developed inside the military as a decision-making methodology.  You observe, orient, decide, then act. The results of the action provide feedback to once again observe, orient, decide, and act. The loop continues until you hit your destination.

It takes brave leadership to allow the freedom for teams to live in an agile world, but doing so leads to greater outcomes. 

While the concepts of Agile Leadership are easy to embrace, implementing them in an organization can be difficult. How can your free form of leadership with the potential for continual change create the security and stability that so many workers crave?

Implementing Agile Leadership

Becoming an Agile Leader may require a deep cultural transformation. It is human-focused where you instill an entrepreneurial drive in every employee. Managers and team members must take ownership of their team goals, decision-making, and performance. Teams need to collaborate, come to alignment, and develop effective feedback frameworks.

As a leader, you are 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. Encourage diversity to enable new ways of thinking about strategies to accomplish goals and overcome challenges.

For more information about how Fierce brings Agile Leadership to life in an organization, learn about: Fierce Team ProgramFierce Feedback Program, and Fierce Delegate Program.

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