How To Be An Agile Leader
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Some qualities are desirable in any leader, whether their teams are practicing agile software development or not. Should we really be characterising these leadership attributes as 'agile leadership'. I suppose not...
But, we can definitely say that agile leaders need all the same strengths and qualities of any other inspirational leader, but in addition they ought to lead in a way that is complimentary to agile principles and values, and have an inherent understanding of agile practices - how they work and perhaps even more importantly, why they work.
Here are some of the important qualities I believe are needed for someone to be an inspirational leader, whether they are agile are not:
Inspirational leaders need to have a strong vision. It can be said that a teams ability to achieve is directly attributable to the clarity of the vision. What are you trying to achieve and why?
Inspirational leaders need to have unwavering belief in their vision, giving them the drive, commitment and determination to overcome all obstacles. Nothing is too big a set-back. Nothing will stop them from believing in their vision and striving to achieve it.
Inspirational leaders need to be full of energy and enthusiasm, in order to share their excitement for their vision.
Compelling communication skills
Inspirational leaders need to be able to articulate their vision in a way that convinces others it is worth pursuing. They need to be able to make a compelling case for their vision and motivate others to follow it.
Ability to listen and respond
It's unlikely that any significant vision can be achieved by one person on their own. That's why leaders are needed. Good leaders surround themselves with excellent people to help them realise their vision. Inspirational leaders listen to those around them and have an interest and ability to respond.
No significant vision will be achieved without running into a few problems. Inspirational leaders not only need the determination to solve them, but also strong problem solving skills.
There are always many distractions. Inspirational leaders remain focused on their goals and see things through to completion.
Inspirational leaders can see the wood for the trees. They need an inate ability to cut through the fog and make timely decisions.
The best leaders, in my experience, are also those that are willing and able to teach others and be a good coach to the people around them. Apart from developing their team, this builds trust, confidence and respect, all of which help people to look up to their leader and make them more likely to commit to their cause and follow their vision.
Trust and integrity
Talking of trust, integrity is at the heart of everything. A leader must be trustworthy or at some point they will lose support from the people they are leading.
Credibility and empathy
It's also important for inspirational leaders to have experience that others can look up to, or at least identify with. It's valuable to know that the person you are following knows what they're doing and can see things from your perspective.
Inspirational leaders exude confidence. There's a fine line between confidence and arrogance. Inspirational leaders have a quiet confidence about them. Something that silently tells everyone else they are worth following, because they seem sure themselves. This is all in the body language and how assertively (not aggressively) they express their opinions.
Inspirational leaders have charisma. Sometimes that means they are fun to be around. Other times it just means they leave people around them feeling positive. I'm not sure if this is really a separate quality in its own right, or what you get if you have all of the qualities above. One thing's for sure though - leaders have it, whatever *it* is. This is the management X factor.
Added to all of these qualities, in an agile environment, leaders must also understand agile principles and exhibit the same core values, for instance openness, empowerment, flexibility, teamwork, etc.
And as if all of that wasn't hard enough, they also need solid experience of agile methods in practice, and ideally in a wide variety of scenarios in order to help them to adapt the processes to whatever unique situation they find themselves in.
That's a big challenge and probably why some people say leaders are born rather than made - it's a good excuse for not having to learn all these skills! I'm not so sure - where do I sign up for the course? :-)