Five Traits of Agile Leaders

Date posted: 23rd July 2023blog-post-cover

Scrum and other agility frameworks thrive on self-organising / self-managing teams. Organisational agility implies whole organisation as an interdependent network of self-managing teams; organisations such as these require a different type of leadership at different levels within the organisation.

My favourite line in the Agile Manifesto is "Individuals and interactions over processes and tools"; this implies that leaders need to create an environment for teams to collaborate within and across teams.

In this article, I describe 5 traits of leaders that succeed in creating an enabling environment for agile teams to thrive.

Leaders that empower teams: These leaders demonstrate to teams that they can and should make decisions that affect their teams. They ensure their teams are appropriately skilled and continuously empowered with information that allows them to self-manage.

Empowered teams have the authority to make decisions that affect the way they work and the product that they create. They also have permission to experiment and fail (learn).

Leaders that trust their teams: Trust is a fundamental requirement for agility to thrive; Leaders with little trust for the team tend to micro-manage their teams which results in frustrating the people working in the teams. An overly restrictive governance process could be a sign of a lack of trust that the team would do the right thing. Controls are good but in situations where they get in the way of value being delivered, then leaders should ask themselves the trust question.

Leaders that capture, track, and improve value metrics: The type of leaders that support agility are interested in metrics such as:

  • Current Value in the product.

  • Unrealised value in the product

  • The teams’ ability to innovate

  • Time to market

[Source: EBM Metrics]

As opposed to leaders that are interested in metrics such as how much work the team is doing, resource utilisation and many other metrics that do not align with being agile. Leaders that focus on and work with their team to improve the value metrics build robust teams and organisations that are well-positioned to deliver value to their customers.

Leaders that focus on outcomes over output: We have supported leaders that were overly focussed on outputs such as lines of code written, communication articles written, social media articles posted etc. as these are easy to capture. We coach these leaders to support their teams define outcomes, only then would these leaders have a higher chance of building self-managed teams. These leaders co-create goals with their teams and support the teams to achieve these goals. Some examples could be improving the net promoter score by 20% or improving customer retention year on year by 30%. Once the goals are set, leaders should allow their teams to come up with ideas that could help them deliver on these goals and how they would measure progress.

Leaders that coach their teams: An agile organisation is one in which every leader is a coach i.e., helping their team members to be better versions of themselves. These leaders are cheerleaders for their team, they do not get in the way of work being done, and they deploy autonomy, mastery and purpose to motivate their team. These leaders delegate as much as possible to their team and would “reveal not resolve” when their teams are faced with challenges.

Our work has seen far too many organisations that kick off their agile journey by training their team while the leaders are usually too busy to get trained. Leaders cannot lead change efforts that they themselves aren’t a part of, so you are invited to join other leaders in a 2days immersive agile leadership workshop where we explore what it takes to support and build an environment where agile can thrive.

Register for our next Professional Agile Leadership workshop today.