The topics of digitalization and globalization define our age. Our everyday life is becoming increasingly fast-paced and changes come one after the other. There is now even an expression for this: VUCA. The acronym stands for volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Basically, this means that in the VUCA world, many things are very volatile and it is not always possible to predict what will happen next. Nevertheless, issues are becoming more complex and therefore we need to work all the more ambitiously. And this is exactly where agile leadership comes into play.
We know that everything around us can change incredibly fast and sometimes there is just not enough time to prepare for it. So we need to be flexible and able to adapt quickly to the new situation. Agile means nothing else. But what is agile leadership?
What does agile leadership mean?
What agile leadership is all about is its adaptability. The goal is for the company to be able to rethink quickly in any situation. In doing so, managers and employees are at eye level, because this is the only way they can quickly find solutions to upcoming challenges. Flat hierarchies are the be-all and end-all of agile leadership, as is open communication, because it is the people who are in the foreground and not the work processes.
Honest feedback is incredibly important under agile leadership. Criticism that is only negatively interpreted and lacks any constructiveness ultimately does not move anyone forward. When mistakes happen, this does not mean a setback at all, but even a step forward. The team learns from them and can thus optimize the processes.
Resources can thus be implemented even more efficiently. At the same time, the problem-solving competence of the team can be increased. Those who tackle challenges themselves and master them successfully also gain a good deal of additional energy. Motivation - another great advantage under agile leadership.
What characterizes an agile leader?
An agile leader always knows exactly what kind of leadership the current situation requires and can switch to it in a flash. They share responsibility and involve all employees intensively. An agile leader does not give instructions in the classic sense, but empowers the team to take matters into their own hands. This requires a great deal of trust.
Anyone who deals with the topic of agile leadership will quickly come across the term hyperawareness. This simply means that every agile leader should be able to analyze internal and external matters in such a way that they can quickly recognize opportunities and risks. This is also confirmed by the study "Redefining Leadership" by Meta Consulting, IMD Lausanne and Cisco. The better leaders' awareness of these contexts, the more natural it becomes to orient themselves to them completely without fear. So they become more agile.
Always up to date
Agile leaders are able to go against their own basic assumptions when the situation demands it. They are not stuck in certain processes, but gather information from customers, employees and the market and align their actions accordingly. All information is evaluated and integrated. Those who work in an agile manner therefore have no problem with changing direction and move forward courageously.
Agile leaders don't follow a rigid plan or look for the perfect, complete solution. They break down complex problems into small pieces, experiment, and repeatedly obtain feedback that helps the project grow. Perfection is not the focus from the outset; there is plenty of time for that in retrospect. Over time, agile managers develop a feel for new trends and act more and more intuitively. Thanks to their openness, it is increasingly easy for them to understand how the Needs of tomorrow's customers.
Agiles are also always up to date on what's new on the market and know the best tools. They are by no means limited to their own area of expertise. They are true all-rounders.
Agile leadership: Socially competent visionaries
What also makes an agile leader is their curiosity and zest for life. That's why they act hyper-aware not only on a general level, but also on a social level. If others have better ideas, an agile leader acknowledges that without envy and supports the team in their execution.
Nevertheless, the agile leader is the representative of the big vision. This is virtually written on their forehead and attracts the team. The agile leader maintains the common vision and makes sure that no one loses sight of it despite all the rapid changes and innovations.
When does agile leadership make sense?
Agile leadership is always useful when the environment often changes quickly and innovations are often unpredictable. Which company is not affected by this nowadays? It has to act quickly and flexibly and that requires agile leadership.
Leaders often believe they are on the safe side if they stick to a strict plan. Yes, plans provide security and stability. But in today's world, it is hardly possible to stick to them over long periods of time. Framework conditions change faster than one would like and then there is no time to work out a new plan down to the smallest detail.
Fast reactions are required to keep up with the competition. And that's exactly why agile leaders are needed who are capable of doing just that and who dare to make decisions together with the team in an agile manner. Discarding existing plans is by no means a sign of weakness, but of courage and strength.
How does agile leadership work?
Agile leadership can be divided into four levels. Each of these levels actively contributes to improving the performance of leaders and their teams because they increase the self-organization as well as problem-solving skills. Let's now take a look at what exactly this is all about together.
Stage 1: The agile leader evolves
An entire team can only act in an agile manner if the manager has taken the step towards an agile way of working. To do this, they must learn to reflect on their own behavior and the effects it has. Imagine that you, as a manager, have given a clear instruction, but in the middle of the project you notice that certain framework conditions have changed. Nevertheless, you stick to your plan without checking whether it still leads to success.
Lo and behold, because of the changes you ignored, the initial plan is no longer feasible and you and your company lose valuable time and budget. This makes it easy for the competition to overtake you on the home stretch. And that's exactly the kind of situation you should learn from. Reflect on your behavior and try to understand when and where you should have acted differently. This is the first step towards self-development - the basis for agile leadership.
Stage 2: Pass on what you have learned to your team
For your business to remain successful, it's not just your own development that matters, but that of your entire team. Have you taken the step to more Self-reflection and the ability to improve, it's time to get your employees on board as well. You coach them and show them the advantages of agile action. You encourage them to act spontaneously when the situation demands it and strengthen their belief in their own competence. Otherwise they wouldn't be part of your team, would they?
If a quick rethink is required, the new plan does not have to be perfect. The important thing is to act according to the new circumstances in the first place. Take away your team's fear of making mistakes and show that you trust every single member.
Stage 3: Keep improving together
In the agile world, there is no standing still. You've mastered an unexpected challenge with flying colors? Great, then sit down together and analyze the whole thing again. What did you do very well, and where might there still be room for improvement? In which situation could you have acted differently in order to solve the problem even faster?
Give each other feedback and always remember: Stay constructive! Only then can you develop further as a team. Open and constructive communication is at the heart of successful agile working.
Stage 4: Develop common visions
Your team and you have now internalized what agile is all about. But don't forget, even though there are countless undefined variables, the overall goals remain broadly the same. However, with all the changes in your day-to-day work, it's easy to lose sight of them.
But that is exactly what must not happen. Your task as an agile leader is to pay close attention to this. You align all activities and make sure that all available resources are aligned with the overall goal.
3 tips for agile leadership
If you want to be an agile leader, you need a good portion of courage and confidence, because for many it is not so easy not to plan every step firmly and to act spontaneously. Are you afraid that you will feel the same way? Then we have 3 Tips for you to support you on your way to becoming an agile leader.
1. allow other ways
Plans provide security, no question. But in the VUCA world, you often have no choice but to throw them overboard. Your approach just doesn't fit anymore? Then admit it to yourself and choose a different path before it might be too late. At the end of the day, your team and your whole company will have a lot more to gain from this. So dare to take new paths!
2. discuss less, try more
Your employees bring up a great idea that has potential but you don't really get anywhere with it in the meeting? Then take action and simply try it out. True to the motto "The proof of the pudding is in the eating", let action speak for itself.
3. agile leadership: healthy error culture
We have already mentioned it several times: mistakes are nothing to be ashamed of, but valuable lessons from which the whole team can learn. So don't reprimand your employees, but discuss openly in the group what could have been done better and how.
You made a mistake yourself? Then admit it and stand up for it. This makes you approachable as a leader and creates a trusting relationship.
Classic vs. agile leadership
Agile leadership is spontaneous, open, courageous and reflective, so far so good. But how exactly does it differ from the well-known classic agile leadership? Leadership style? In long-established companies that have never dealt with the topic of agile leadership, the boss is the one who is unchallenged in first place, gives the orders and is the most competent person of all - at least all this is taken for granted.
An agile manager, on the other hand, is on an equal footing with his team and also lets them take the reins once in a while if he realizes that it would help everyone in this situation. He gives the employees a lot of trust and gives them the opportunity to take things into their own hands.
While non-agile leaders often make all decisions themselves and want to determine the strategies alone, agile leaders strongly involve the team and attach great importance to the opinions of all those involved. The approach is discussed in the group and the path to the goal is determined together.
Fixed specifications vs. free working
A classic manager sets a fixed goal, develops a plan that is to be adhered to exactly and also checks this regularly. Guidelines must be adhered to and if there are deviations, a critical discussion with the employees is on the agenda. Those who lead in an agile manner act quite differently. Yes, here too there is a fixed goal, but the path to it is flexible. Not every step is planned in advance, because agile leaders know that this makes no sense in our fast-moving times.
After each mastered section, feedback is first obtained. Based on this, the agile leader then decides together with his team whether the course may need to be changed or is still suitable. Deviations from the original rough plan are no problem at all. Even mistakes are no reason for a devastating team meeting. They are there to learn from and can even move the agile team forward.
Even though the agile leader is involved in all processes, she does not control every single handshake. She trusts her team enough to simply let them do what they want. The agile leader thus provides a rough direction and creates a framework in which the employees can then move quite freely. The team is often more deeply involved in the matter and can therefore make decisions more quickly.
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