Critical Behaviors for Agile Leaders

by Scrum Alliance

You did your due diligence to get this far in business, and now your most significant opportunities for growth look a lot like agile leadership development. It's not just about delivering results — though you'd love to do exactly that — it's about business agility, employee satisfaction, rapid iteration, and, if we're honest, failing hard, fast, and often. Agile leaders do business differently, and to weather the storm, you will too. 


Be a Window, Not a Door

You're going to want to demonstrate that you value transparency. It's not about micromanagement and continuously monitoring KPIs. It's about knowing when to take a failure bow, tell the truth, and provide real insights into the vision. Your teams want to see why you're asking them to prioritize one project over another, and they're more likely to perform if they feel their contributions ladder up to clear business goals.


Let Your Teams Decide "How"

Once you've shared your vision and insights into higher-level business strategy, let your teams decide how to measure, benchmark, test, and achieve results. That creative freedom allows the people who are most in touch with your audience and products to solve your customers' most significant challenges. Instead of constantly monitoring for potential failures, check in regularly to see what impediments you need to get out of their way.


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Invest in Individual Advancement & Career Development

Team members who feel stagnant don't stay long. Agile leaders empower teams to solve their problems, not just by creating space for them to decide how work gets done, but by ensuring they have the knowledge, tools, and resources to thrive. Even without an extensive formal education budget, an agile leader provides continuous development opportunities by prioritizing shadowing and cross-training/working, even when the business is busy. Encourage your team members to expand their skills into new areas and via new roles.


Encourage Rapid Failure

By being a truly transparent leader, you create a culture in which your employees can acknowledge when they've overcommitted or failed. And if they're truly extending your business' capacity, they should fail regularly. Failure that results in learning, growth, and change is not a bad thing. Agility is synonymous with rapid iteration — innovation. When you encourage real innovation, your teams problem-solve together and get more done.


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Experiment Better with a Customer-Centric Focus

Successful business leaders never fail to put the customer first. If your changes don't improve your product or service perceptibly to your audience, you only stand to frustrate them and eventually lose their loyalty. Agile methodologies require that you embed your customers in your process. Never assume you know what your customers want — get them involved in your process. Set and manage their expectations responsibly, even transparently, and each iteration will work better than the last.


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Be Your Team's Champion

Overloading teams and team members is a common mistake agile leaders make as they learn to educate themselves and the organization about how agile teams operate most effectively. Agile requires your team to focus its energy on one project or feature at a time. As a leader, you may need to push back on the business and other leaders — your teams succeed by prioritizing projects and outcomes. Focus on removing barriers and setting boundaries.


Follow the Data

Customer satisfaction is only one data point. Measure how they actually engage with each step along their journey. Encourage your teams to track their own behavior and results, beyond their velocity as a team. Think meeting duration, number of projects completed, how satisfied they are with their teamwork, etc. This helps with your feedback loops, impediment removal, and identifying personal and team skill gaps.


Create a Positive Feedback Loop

Influential agile leaders give regular feedback that's positive, neutral, and "negative." They also encourage, request, and enthusiastically receive feedback from their employees and teams. There are many formats through which this can be done, both formal and informal, and it's a great idea to have the formal ones in place to ensure nothing falls through the informal feedback cracks. Remember, as an agile leader, your job includes mentorship and coaching, not just "management." If you implement these systems within your teams and organization — your internal customers — you'll be better at encouraging that feedback from the external audiences as well.


Acknowledge & Celebrate

Every Daily Scrum should kick off with acknowledgment and celebration of your team members' accomplishments. Ask what your team completed since you last met, and then provide specific praise to each person who brought you one step closer to your goals. This works best if your cards aren't gargantuan. Team awareness of the steps necessary to accomplish larger goals provides the added benefits of accountability and opportunities to ask for help. Truly agile leaders empower team members from every angle.


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