What Does It Mean To Be An Agile Leader?

agile leadership One of the new ideologies being seen in leadership models today is the concept of agile leadership. Agility conjures up the idea of nimbleness, dynamism and adaptability, and the mentality of today’s leader has to include the ability to be flexible in the confines of the business environs.

When we consider that we are attempting to link in with today’s culture of autonomous thinking for employees, this style of leadership fits in nicely with progressive companies’ cultures.

As companies become more customer-centric, the agile style of leadership helps staff to quickly adapt to the ever-changing needs of customers and suppliers alike.

Peter Koning in his thesis ‘Agile Leadership Toolkit: Learning to thrive with self-managing teams’ says ‘A leader is like a farmer, who doesn’t grow crops by pulling them but instead creates the perfect environment for the crops to grow and thrive’. You can see his point.

Creating an environment for staff to thrive in the working environment is a key requisite of an agile leader.

It’s also a key component of the transformational leadership style.

Here are just four components that Koning suggests will take a leader towards being agile and flexible in nature:

Co-create the goals

Instead of giving instructions, make sure that the goals are clear and shared between the leadership team and the staff members.

This enables teams to know what to achieve, and if their actions are bringing them any closer to their goals.

  • Build ideas with team members instead of telling them what to do
  • Help team members come up with ideas that will progress toward goals
  • Get assistance from people who do the tasks as to what it would take to improve

Facilitate Ownership

Create an environment in which agile teams can grow and thrive. Teams can’t be forced to take ownership; leaders can only create those circumstances in which teams take ownership.

This is a balancing between stepping in and letting go. Finding the sweet-spot where teams have the right amount of freedom aligned with their level of maturity.is a keen sign of agility in leadership.

  • Get people to take personal responsibility for their results
  • Ask individuals how they can own tasks and get results
  • Build credibility at all stages in your communication to get people to own tasks

Learn faster

Being fit and ready for the future is not about being the best; it’s about learning faster. Self-managing teams need to get fast feedback on their actions and their decisions, preferably from users and customers.

It’s the leader’s role to promote learning from experiments and failures.

  • Get people to identify outcomes from risks
  • Build accountability in people’s mindsets so they learn from experiences
  • Check that learning has taken place in all situations

Design the culture

The agile leader has to envision, design and improve the culture of the organisation. The desired culture can be set using the visionary leadership style but at the end of the day you still need to implement it.

In agile leadership, the culture is seen as a complementary addition to the ability of the structure to work with the teams.

These ideas from Peter Koning help us to see how we can build agility into our leadership style. Here are some ways we can build on his ideas:

  • Identify how the culture of the department can be manifested in the climate
  • Ascertain which parts of the values of the company may be holding agile thinking back
  • Determine how people living the values can assist in agile thinking

An agile mindset means thinking quicker and smarter

If we have this thought process when making every decision, we help our teams and departments adapt to a changing environment quicker and with more confidence.

Thanks again


Sean McPheat

Managing Director

MTD Training   

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Updated on: 19 February, 2020

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