Why and How to Teach Your Leaders to Be Agile

Enterprise agility is the perfect competitive edge that companies need to survive in today’s disruptive marketplace. However, despite all their efforts, businesses struggle to actually embrace the concept – and it’s not because they don’t invest in the right tools or don’t have the right culture.

Often, leaders and managers of the organization may serve as roadblocks to truly embracing enterprise agility. The work of the best agile teams can slow to a crawl when senior executives aren’t able to change the way they lead.

To really make the best use of the lean-agile processes and tools that the company has invested in developing, acquiring, and building, managers and leaders must change the way they work.

Decision-making, team management, communication of organizational goals and reaction to success and failure, for example, need to change. They can no longer predict and control, they must sense and respond. They must shift from a mindset that requires them to make great decisions to a mindset that helps teams make great decisions.

For enterprises migrating to a lean-agile style of leadership, providing training to help identify and bridge the gap between the traditional way of doing things and the ‘new’ way is extremely useful.

Focusing on training for agility

Successful leaders have learned their behaviors through several years of experience on the job. Their way of doing things is natural, instinctive, and most of all, ‘tried and tested’. Recognizing that is important – before you try to convince them to trade those behaviors for new ways of doing things. It’s why coaching is so important to the whole transition.

To make it effective, assess an individual’s current leadership style and how that style can work in a lean-agile environment. Doing so will identify behaviors and traits that cause a leader to steer away from a lean-agile approach to one that goes back to the command-and-control, top-down decision-making they’re so used to.

An effective coach can then point those out to the individual leader to help them see where they’re going wrong, so they can see the impact of those decisions on their team and the business as a whole. Having had experience on the field, leaders usually respond to such training quickly and positively. They know the consequences: if they don’t walk the talk and practice agility themselves, they will fail to inspire their employees and keep them engaged.

The effort to adopt an agile mindset also requires that leaders build trust throughout the organization. Some of the first steps in the right direction include showing confidence in teams to make decisions, understanding failure as a learning opportunity rather than a reason to assign blame, and cultivating individual relationships and appreciating colleagues.

Leaders must be the flag bearers of change. Adopting lean-agile practices across the enterprise represents a key change as it transforms the DNA of traditional organizations. To effectively make the transition, business leaders must be coached, as their mindset will influence change throughout the organization. If you’d like to learn more about what behaviors need to change and the mindset that is needed to establish agility as the norm in your company, read my article Effective Leadership of Agile Organizations: Building a Culture of Servant Leadership in the latest edition of our management journal, Perspectives.


About the author(s)

Carl Shea

Carl is an Executive/Leadership and Enterprise Agile Coach with 30+ years of IT and 14+ years of direct Agile experience at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS).Carl is working on leading edge ideas related to Enterprise-level Agile Transformation and Scaled/Distributed Agile frameworks. Some of the more interesting areas are within Organizational Evolution, Integral Agile Theory, Emotional Intelligence and its connections into the Agile philosophy. Carl couples his extensive experience, training, lean thinking and expert Agile Coaching with his skills and certifications to provide multi-level Emotional Intelligence Assessments and coaching to truly address the Agile mindset in a unique and impactful way.

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