What Is Agile Leadership? Agile Leadership In A Nutshell

Agile leadership is the embodiment of agile manifesto principles by a manager or management team. Agile leadership impacts two important levels of a business. The structural level defines the roles, responsibilities, and key performance indicators. The behavioral level describes the actions leaders exhibit to others based on agile principles. 

Concept OverviewAgile Leadership is a leadership approach that aligns with the principles of Agile methodology, which originated in software development but has since been applied to various industries and functions. It emphasizes flexibility, collaboration, and adaptability in leadership practices, enabling organizations to respond effectively to rapidly changing environments and customer needs. Agile leaders foster a culture of continuous improvement, empower teams, and prioritize customer value delivery.
Key Elements– Agile Leadership encompasses several key elements: – Customer-Centricity: Agile leaders prioritize understanding and meeting customer needs, placing customer value at the center of decision-making. – Collaborative Culture: They promote collaboration, open communication, and cross-functional teamwork to drive innovation and problem-solving. – Iterative and Incremental Approach: Agile leaders embrace iterative and incremental work processes, encouraging teams to deliver small, valuable increments of work frequently. – Empowerment: They empower teams by granting autonomy and decision-making authority, fostering a sense of ownership and accountability. – Adaptability: Agile leaders are adaptable and responsive to change, willing to pivot based on feedback and emerging requirements.
Applications– Agile Leadership can be applied across various domains: – Software Development: Agile methodologies, such as Scrum and Kanban, are commonly used in software development, and Agile Leadership aligns with these practices. – Project Management: Agile Leadership principles can be applied to project management to improve project outcomes, especially in dynamic and uncertain environments. – Product Management: Product managers and leaders can use Agile approaches to develop and manage products that align with customer needs. – Organizational Change: Agile Leadership supports organizations in implementing Agile transformations and managing change effectively. – Team Leadership: Leaders of Agile teams adopt Agile Leadership practices to guide and support their teams in delivering value.
Benefits– Embracing Agile Leadership offers several benefits: – Adaptability: Organizations become more adaptable and responsive to changing market conditions and customer preferences. – Customer Value: Agile Leadership places a strong emphasis on delivering value to customers, resulting in higher customer satisfaction and loyalty. – Innovation: A collaborative culture and iterative approach foster innovation and the rapid development of new ideas. – Employee Engagement: Empowering teams leads to higher levels of employee engagement, as team members have more autonomy and responsibility. – Efficiency: Agile practices can enhance efficiency by reducing waste and improving the focus on high-priority work.
Challenges– Challenges associated with Agile Leadership include the need for cultural change within organizations, resistance to new practices, and the potential for misalignment with traditional hierarchical structures. Additionally, not all situations or industries are suited for Agile methodologies, and leaders must assess their appropriateness carefully.
Prevention and Mitigation– To address challenges associated with Agile Leadership, organizations can: – Cultural Transformation: Invest in a cultural transformation that aligns with Agile values and principles, emphasizing collaboration and adaptability. – Training and Education: Provide training and education to leaders and teams to ensure they understand Agile concepts and practices. – Change Management: Implement change management strategies to manage resistance and facilitate a smooth transition to Agile practices. – Hybrid Approaches: Consider hybrid approaches that blend Agile practices with existing processes, especially in organizations with well-established traditional structures. – Continuous Improvement: Encourage a culture of continuous improvement to refine Agile practices and adapt them to the organization’s unique needs.

Understanding agile leadership

Traditional leadership practices are outdated and ineffective in many modern businesses. Indeed, we don’t need research to prove that one of the main causes of job dissatisfaction is to have a bad boss.

If any of you has had at least some work experience, you might be one of the many people who fell victim to a bad boss, someone with a complete lack of leadership skills, trying to control, own you, and micromanage your work.

Micromanagement is about tightly controlling or observing employees’ work. Although in some cases, this management style might be understood, especially for small-scale projects, generally speaking, micromanagement has a negative connotation mainly because it shows a lack of trust and freedom in the workplace, which leads to adverse outcomes.

Agile leadership, with its foundation in agility, is a decision-making and decision-implementation framework.

Although agile is somewhat of a buzzword now, agile principles were used for decades in military strategy, among other things. 

In an organizational setting, agile leadership helps a business navigate so-called VUCA environments – or those environments that are volatile, uncertain, chaotic, or ambiguous.

This is achieved by building a high-performance team that actively applies agile principles to company processes, structures, and people development. In each case, the goal is to increase competitiveness. 

It should be noted that agile leadership is not a leadership approach in and of itself.

Instead, it supports other styles including transformational leadership, complexity leadership, and trait-based leadership. 

Agile leadership impacts two levels:


Incorporating processes, roles, responsibilities, KPIs, etc. 


Describing actions taken by leaders in certain situations, underpinned by particular agile abilities or philosophies. 

When implemented correctly, the levels mutually reinforce each other which facilitates buy-in across the organization.

Six attributes of agile leadership

What constitutes agile leadership may vary from business to business. However, many have chosen to take principles from the agile manifesto and adapt them to suit.

With that in mind, here are six general attributes agile leaders and leadership promotes:


Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella once said that “It’s time to go from know-it-alls to learn-it-alls.

Leaders who are comfortable with not knowing something embody the confidence their teams need to achieve their goals.


True agile leaders communicate outcomes to teams while letting them decide how they will achieve the desired result.

This empowers teams and results in a feeling of accomplishment and ownership.


When self-managing teams are first established in the early adoption phase, there is a heightened risk of errors.

Agile leadership is prepared for this eventuality and is not afraid to modify or adapt the plan at regular intervals.


Agile leaders realize that problem solving is more effective when more than one person is involved in finding the answer.

Some cases may necessitate that information is shared across departments, promoting organizational growth and expertise.


Agile leaders are also mentors and understand each member of their team well.

To build relationships with subordinates, they establish boundaries and then identify their values and definition of success.

This allows the leader to push a team member beyond what they think they can achieve or pull back and provide support if necessary.


For a team to flourish, leaders need to create the right environment.

Problems need to be dealt with quickly or identified before they have a chance to occur.

Since agile leadership tends to delegate tasks to others, leaders have more time to continually refine and optimize strategy and systems.

Key takeaways

  • Agile leadership is the embodiment of agile manifesto principles on the individual or organizational level.
  • Agile leadership impacts two important levels of a business. The structural level defines the roles, responsibilities, and key performance indicators. The behavioral level describes the actions leaders exhibit to others based on agile principles. 
  • What agile leadership looks like depends on the particular business or industry. However, most agree that agile leaders should display humility, autonomy, flexibility, collaboration, understanding, and optimization.

Key Highlights

  • Introduction and Definition: Agile leadership is rooted in the principles of the Agile Manifesto and is applied by managers or leadership teams. It involves both structural and behavioral aspects of leadership, aiming to enhance organizational effectiveness by adapting to modern business needs and challenges.
  • Challenges with Traditional Leadership: Traditional leadership practices are often ineffective and can lead to job dissatisfaction, particularly when leaders exhibit traits such as micromanagement. Micromanagement can stifle employee autonomy and create a lack of trust and freedom within the workplace.
  • Agile Decision-Making Framework: Agile leadership is essentially a decision-making and implementation framework. It draws from agile principles that have been applied for decades in various contexts, including military strategy. This approach is particularly beneficial in navigating volatile, uncertain, chaotic, or ambiguous (VUCA) environments.
  • Supportive Role of Agile Leadership: Agile leadership is not a standalone leadership approach but rather supports other styles such as transformational leadership, complexity leadership, and trait-based leadership. It aligns with and reinforces these approaches to create a cohesive leadership strategy.
  • Two Levels of Impact: Agile leadership has a dual impact on organizations:
    • Structural Level: This involves incorporating agile principles into processes, roles, responsibilities, and key performance indicators (KPIs). It sets the foundation for agile practices to be implemented effectively.
    • Behavioral Level: At this level, agile leadership focuses on the actions taken by leaders in different situations. These actions are guided by agile abilities or philosophies, contributing to an overall culture of agility within the organization.
  • Attributes of Agile Leadership: Agile leadership encompasses several attributes that align with the principles of the Agile Manifesto. These attributes include:
    • Humility: Agile leaders acknowledge that they don’t have all the answers and promote a culture of continuous learning.
    • Autonomy: They empower teams to make decisions on how to achieve desired outcomes, fostering a sense of ownership and accomplishment.
    • Flexibility: Agile leaders are adaptable and open to modifying plans as needed, especially in the early stages of implementing self-managing teams.
    • Collaboration: They recognize the value of collaborative problem-solving and information-sharing across departments, promoting growth and expertise.
    • Understanding: Agile leaders act as mentors, understanding their team members’ values and definitions of success. They provide support when needed and encourage individuals to exceed their perceived limits.
    • Optimization: Creating the right environment for teams to flourish is crucial. Agile leaders address issues promptly and continuously refine strategies and systems.
  • Customization of Agile Leadership: While the attributes of agile leadership are consistent, their application may vary across different businesses and industries. Organizations often adapt agile principles to suit their specific contexts while upholding the core tenets of agility and collaboration.

Connected Agile & Lean Frameworks


AIOps is the application of artificial intelligence to IT operations. It has become particularly useful for modern IT management in hybridized, distributed, and dynamic environments. AIOps has become a key operational component of modern digital-based organizations, built around software and algorithms.


AgileSHIFT is a framework that prepares individuals for transformational change by creating a culture of agility.

Agile Methodology

Agile started as a lightweight development method compared to heavyweight software development, which is the core paradigm of the previous decades of software development. By 2001 the Manifesto for Agile Software Development was born as a set of principles that defined the new paradigm for software development as a continuous iteration. This would also influence the way of doing business.

Agile Program Management

Agile Program Management is a means of managing, planning, and coordinating interrelated work in such a way that value delivery is emphasized for all key stakeholders. Agile Program Management (AgilePgM) is a disciplined yet flexible agile approach to managing transformational change within an organization.

Agile Project Management

Agile project management (APM) is a strategy that breaks large projects into smaller, more manageable tasks. In the APM methodology, each project is completed in small sections – often referred to as iterations. Each iteration is completed according to its project life cycle, beginning with the initial design and progressing to testing and then quality assurance.

Agile Modeling

Agile Modeling (AM) is a methodology for modeling and documenting software-based systems. Agile Modeling is critical to the rapid and continuous delivery of software. It is a collection of values, principles, and practices that guide effective, lightweight software modeling.

Agile Business Analysis

Agile Business Analysis (AgileBA) is certification in the form of guidance and training for business analysts seeking to work in agile environments. To support this shift, AgileBA also helps the business analyst relate Agile projects to a wider organizational mission or strategy. To ensure that analysts have the necessary skills and expertise, AgileBA certification was developed.

Agile Leadership

Agile leadership is the embodiment of agile manifesto principles by a manager or management team. Agile leadership impacts two important levels of a business. The structural level defines the roles, responsibilities, and key performance indicators. The behavioral level describes the actions leaders exhibit to others based on agile principles. 

Andon System

The andon system alerts managerial, maintenance, or other staff of a production process problem. The alert itself can be activated manually with a button or pull cord, but it can also be activated automatically by production equipment. Most Andon boards utilize three colored lights similar to a traffic signal: green (no errors), yellow or amber (problem identified, or quality check needed), and red (production stopped due to unidentified issue).

Bimodal Portfolio Management

Bimodal Portfolio Management (BimodalPfM) helps an organization manage both agile and traditional portfolios concurrently. Bimodal Portfolio Management – sometimes referred to as bimodal development – was coined by research and advisory company Gartner. The firm argued that many agile organizations still needed to run some aspects of their operations using traditional delivery models.

Business Innovation Matrix

Business innovation is about creating new opportunities for an organization to reinvent its core offerings, revenue streams, and enhance the value proposition for existing or new customers, thus renewing its whole business model. Business innovation springs by understanding the structure of the market, thus adapting or anticipating those changes.

Business Model Innovation

Business model innovation is about increasing the success of an organization with existing products and technologies by crafting a compelling value proposition able to propel a new business model to scale up customers and create a lasting competitive advantage. And it all starts by mastering the key customers.

Constructive Disruption

A consumer brand company like Procter & Gamble (P&G) defines “Constructive Disruption” as: a willingness to change, adapt, and create new trends and technologies that will shape our industry for the future. According to P&G, it moves around four pillars: lean innovation, brand building, supply chain, and digitalization & data analytics.

Continuous Innovation

That is a process that requires a continuous feedback loop to develop a valuable product and build a viable business model. Continuous innovation is a mindset where products and services are designed and delivered to tune them around the customers’ problem and not the technical solution of its founders.

Design Sprint

A design sprint is a proven five-day process where critical business questions are answered through speedy design and prototyping, focusing on the end-user. A design sprint starts with a weekly challenge that should finish with a prototype, test at the end, and therefore a lesson learned to be iterated.

Design Thinking

Tim Brown, Executive Chair of IDEO, defined design thinking as “a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” Therefore, desirability, feasibility, and viability are balanced to solve critical problems.


DevOps refers to a series of practices performed to perform automated software development processes. It is a conjugation of the term “development” and “operations” to emphasize how functions integrate across IT teams. DevOps strategies promote seamless building, testing, and deployment of products. It aims to bridge a gap between development and operations teams to streamline the development altogether.

Dual Track Agile

Product discovery is a critical part of agile methodologies, as its aim is to ensure that products customers love are built. Product discovery involves learning through a raft of methods, including design thinking, lean start-up, and A/B testing to name a few. Dual Track Agile is an agile methodology containing two separate tracks: the “discovery” track and the “delivery” track.

eXtreme Programming

eXtreme Programming was developed in the late 1990s by Ken Beck, Ron Jeffries, and Ward Cunningham. During this time, the trio was working on the Chrysler Comprehensive Compensation System (C3) to help manage the company payroll system. eXtreme Programming (XP) is a software development methodology. It is designed to improve software quality and the ability of software to adapt to changing customer needs.

Feature-Driven Development

Feature-Driven Development is a pragmatic software process that is client and architecture-centric. Feature-Driven Development (FDD) is an agile software development model that organizes workflow according to which features need to be developed next.

Gemba Walk

A Gemba Walk is a fundamental component of lean management. It describes the personal observation of work to learn more about it. Gemba is a Japanese word that loosely translates as “the real place”, or in business, “the place where value is created”. The Gemba Walk as a concept was created by Taiichi Ohno, the father of the Toyota Production System of lean manufacturing. Ohno wanted to encourage management executives to leave their offices and see where the real work happened. This, he hoped, would build relationships between employees with vastly different skillsets and build trust.

GIST Planning

GIST Planning is a relatively easy and lightweight agile approach to product planning that favors autonomous working. GIST Planning is a lean and agile methodology that was created by former Google product manager Itamar Gilad. GIST Planning seeks to address this situation by creating lightweight plans that are responsive and adaptable to change. GIST Planning also improves team velocity, autonomy, and alignment by reducing the pervasive influence of management. It consists of four blocks: goals, ideas, step-projects, and tasks.

ICE Scoring

The ICE Scoring Model is an agile methodology that prioritizes features using data according to three components: impact, confidence, and ease of implementation. The ICE Scoring Model was initially created by author and growth expert Sean Ellis to help companies expand. Today, the model is broadly used to prioritize projects, features, initiatives, and rollouts. It is ideally suited for early-stage product development where there is a continuous flow of ideas and momentum must be maintained.

Innovation Funnel

An innovation funnel is a tool or process ensuring only the best ideas are executed. In a metaphorical sense, the funnel screens innovative ideas for viability so that only the best products, processes, or business models are launched to the market. An innovation funnel provides a framework for the screening and testing of innovative ideas for viability.

Innovation Matrix

According to how well defined is the problem and how well defined the domain, we have four main types of innovations: basic research (problem and domain or not well defined); breakthrough innovation (domain is not well defined, the problem is well defined); sustaining innovation (both problem and domain are well defined); and disruptive innovation (domain is well defined, the problem is not well defined).

Innovation Theory

The innovation loop is a methodology/framework derived from the Bell Labs, which produced innovation at scale throughout the 20th century. They learned how to leverage a hybrid innovation management model based on science, invention, engineering, and manufacturing at scale. By leveraging individual genius, creativity, and small/large groups.

Lean vs. Agile

The Agile methodology has been primarily thought of for software development (and other business disciplines have also adopted it). Lean thinking is a process improvement technique where teams prioritize the value streams to improve it continuously. Both methodologies look at the customer as the key driver to improvement and waste reduction. Both methodologies look at improvement as something continuous.

Lean Startup

A startup company is a high-tech business that tries to build a scalable business model in tech-driven industries. A startup company usually follows a lean methodology, where continuous innovation, driven by built-in viral loops is the rule. Thus, driving growth and building network effects as a consequence of this strategy.

Minimum Viable Product

As pointed out by Eric Ries, a minimum viable product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort through a cycle of build, measure, learn; that is the foundation of the lean startup methodology.

Leaner MVP

A leaner MVP is the evolution of the MPV approach. Where the market risk is validated before anything else


Kanban is a lean manufacturing framework first developed by Toyota in the late 1940s. The Kanban framework is a means of visualizing work as it moves through identifying potential bottlenecks. It does that through a process called just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing to optimize engineering processes, speed up manufacturing products, and improve the go-to-market strategy.


Jidoka was first used in 1896 by Sakichi Toyoda, who invented a textile loom that would stop automatically when it encountered a defective thread. Jidoka is a Japanese term used in lean manufacturing. The term describes a scenario where machines cease operating without human intervention when a problem or defect is discovered.

PDCA Cycle

The PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) cycle was first proposed by American physicist and engineer Walter A. Shewhart in the 1920s. The PDCA cycle is a continuous process and product improvement method and an essential component of the lean manufacturing philosophy.

Rational Unified Process

Rational unified process (RUP) is an agile software development methodology that breaks the project life cycle down into four distinct phases.

Rapid Application Development

RAD was first introduced by author and consultant James Martin in 1991. Martin recognized and then took advantage of the endless malleability of software in designing development models. Rapid Application Development (RAD) is a methodology focusing on delivering rapidly through continuous feedback and frequent iterations.

Retrospective Analysis

Retrospective analyses are held after a project to determine what worked well and what did not. They are also conducted at the end of an iteration in Agile project management. Agile practitioners call these meetings retrospectives or retros. They are an effective way to check the pulse of a project team, reflect on the work performed to date, and reach a consensus on how to tackle the next sprint cycle. These are the five stages of a retrospective analysis for effective Agile project management: set the stage, gather the data, generate insights, decide on the next steps, and close the retrospective.

Scaled Agile

Scaled Agile Lean Development (ScALeD) helps businesses discover a balanced approach to agile transition and scaling questions. The ScALed approach helps businesses successfully respond to change. Inspired by a combination of lean and agile values, ScALed is practitioner-based and can be completed through various agile frameworks and practices.


The SMED (single minute exchange of die) method is a lean production framework to reduce waste and increase production efficiency. The SMED method is a framework for reducing the time associated with completing an equipment changeover.

Spotify Model

The Spotify Model is an autonomous approach to scaling agile, focusing on culture communication, accountability, and quality. The Spotify model was first recognized in 2012 after Henrik Kniberg, and Anders Ivarsson released a white paper detailing how streaming company Spotify approached agility. Therefore, the Spotify model represents an evolution of agile.

Test-Driven Development

As the name suggests, TDD is a test-driven technique for delivering high-quality software rapidly and sustainably. It is an iterative approach based on the idea that a failing test should be written before any code for a feature or function is written. Test-Driven Development (TDD) is an approach to software development that relies on very short development cycles.


Timeboxing is a simple yet powerful time-management technique for improving productivity. Timeboxing describes the process of proactively scheduling a block of time to spend on a task in the future. It was first described by author James Martin in a book about agile software development.


Scrum is a methodology co-created by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland for effective team collaboration on complex products. Scrum was primarily thought for software development projects to deliver new software capability every 2-4 weeks. It is a sub-group of agile also used in project management to improve startups’ productivity.


Scrumban is a project management framework that is a hybrid of two popular agile methodologies: Scrum and Kanban. Scrumban is a popular approach to helping businesses focus on the right strategic tasks while simultaneously strengthening their processes.

Scrum Anti-Patterns

Scrum anti-patterns describe any attractive, easy-to-implement solution that ultimately makes a problem worse. Therefore, these are the practice not to follow to prevent issues from emerging. Some classic examples of scrum anti-patterns comprise absent product owners, pre-assigned tickets (making individuals work in isolation), and discounting retrospectives (where review meetings are not useful to really make improvements).

Scrum At Scale

Scrum at Scale (Scrum@Scale) is a framework that Scrum teams use to address complex problems and deliver high-value products. Scrum at Scale was created through a joint venture between the Scrum Alliance and Scrum Inc. The joint venture was overseen by Jeff Sutherland, a co-creator of Scrum and one of the principal authors of the Agile Manifesto.

Six Sigma

Six Sigma is a data-driven approach and methodology for eliminating errors or defects in a product, service, or process. Six Sigma was developed by Motorola as a management approach based on quality fundamentals in the early 1980s. A decade later, it was popularized by General Electric who estimated that the methodology saved them $12 billion in the first five years of operation.

Stretch Objectives

Stretch objectives describe any task an agile team plans to complete without expressly committing to do so. Teams incorporate stretch objectives during a Sprint or Program Increment (PI) as part of Scaled Agile. They are used when the agile team is unsure of its capacity to attain an objective. Therefore, stretch objectives are instead outcomes that, while extremely desirable, are not the difference between the success or failure of each sprint.

Toyota Production System

The Toyota Production System (TPS) is an early form of lean manufacturing created by auto-manufacturer Toyota. Created by the Toyota Motor Corporation in the 1940s and 50s, the Toyota Production System seeks to manufacture vehicles ordered by customers most quickly and efficiently possible.

Total Quality Management

The Total Quality Management (TQM) framework is a technique based on the premise that employees continuously work on their ability to provide value to customers. Importantly, the word “total” means that all employees are involved in the process – regardless of whether they work in development, production, or fulfillment.


The waterfall model was first described by Herbert D. Benington in 1956 during a presentation about the software used in radar imaging during the Cold War. Since there were no knowledge-based, creative software development strategies at the time, the waterfall method became standard practice. The waterfall model is a linear and sequential project management framework. 

Read Also: Continuous InnovationAgile MethodologyLean StartupBusiness Model InnovationProject Management.

Read Next: Agile Methodology, Lean Methodology, Agile Project Management, Scrum, Kanban, Six Sigma.

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