I’ve had this ongoing discussion with a few of my colleagues who says that the term “agile leader” is an oxymoron – that the ideal organization is a bunch of Scrum Teams and not much else. Even in an ideal world, I disagree, and here’s why in a nutshell: I’ve never seen, and have not even heard of, an organization that was successful in their pursuit of agility who did not have a strong leader guiding the vision for what the organization can become, motivating people to achieve that vision, nurturing the pursuit of that vision, and protecting, when necessary, the people who want that vision from the people who don’t.
The reason for this is simple, and is as old as civilization. As Nicolo Machiavelli observed,
“It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out nor more doubtful of success nor more dangerous to handle than to initiate a new order of things; for the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order; this lukewarmness arising partly from the incredulity of mankind who does not truly believe in anything new until they actually have experience of it.“
As intellectually compelling and self-evident we would like the advantages of agile to be, the truth is that there are people who benefit from the old system, and they didn’t get to where they are because they are not astute and influential. They are not simply going to resign their current advantages because someone proposes a superior system; you have to expect that they are going to fight to maintain the status quo.
What Agile Leaders Do?
Agile Leaders focus on three things: (1) they create and nurture a culture in which experimentation and learning are embraced; (2) they collaborate with employees (at all levels in the organization) to find common values to create a greater goal for the company and the teams; and (3) they create an organizational structure that reinforces and rewards the other two dimensions.