Leaders are enablers of change

The essence of agile philosophy consists of two inseparable areas, agile processes (doing agile) and agile values (being agile). Both are equally important for an agile culture to take root in an organization.

The implementation of an agile way of working in an organization needs to be approached with a lot of attention and very thoroughly. In addition to designing processes, activities and “ceremonies”, it is necessary to work in parallel on creating awareness of the importance of change and what a new way of working can bring to the organization. Although people and processes are inseparable, agile philosophy always favors people. In the agile world, although people are constantly talking about self-organizing teams, the role of leaders is crucial and that is why during any agile transformation, special attention is paid to the education of leaders. They should first be supported in embracing the new skills needed to work in an uncertain business environment.

Agile leadership is the right answer to the changes that are happening in the business environment. Traditional leadership, which was working out perfectly “until yesterday”, is already facing the fact that there is no adequate and quick response to the changes that are happening in the environment. There are many differences between traditional and agile leadership, and some of the crucial ones are:

  • Agile leaders do not try to anticipate and control the conditions in which business takes place, they “feel and follow” what is happening and make a decision accordingly
  • Traditional leaders make great decisions, and agile ones help the team make great decisions
  • Traditional leaders build authority based on their position and experience, and agile ones have the skills to empower others through emotional intelligence and relationship building
  • Agile leaders communicate in both directions with their superiors and colleagues, while in traditional leadership communication is mostly one-way, “top to bottom”
  • Decision making in traditional leadership can be complex and multi-layered, while an agile leader believes that the team will make a good decision
  • Perhaps the biggest difference between agile and traditional leadership is in the culture of mistakes. In traditional leadership, the one who makes a mistake is often “called out”, creating a culture of fear of making a mistake. In agile leadership, a culture of safe environment is created, where a mistake is accepted as something that is inevitable and focuses on learning from that very mistake.

How “deep” an organization is in “traditional” leadership is often a crucial factor based on when we can calculate the time and energy that needs to be invested in leaders. The most common question to be asked by the management that starts with or thinks about change is:

How long will the agile transformation take?

Transforming a business model into one that supports agile ways of working is fast, but changing culture and mindset can take much longer. The world average is for a transformed organization to reach its full potential between 3 and 5 years.

When to start transforming a business? Perhaps the answer to this question is best described by an old Chinese proverb: “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago, and the next best time is now.”

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