Agile leadership behaviors: 7 tips to build a more nimble team

To be agile is to be quick, deft, lively, enthusiastic, quick-witted, and nimble. How can you help your team to be more agile? You need to be a role model, demonstrating agile leadership behaviors.

7 Agile Leadership Behaviors

1. Your first step to agile leadership – set FAST Goals

How you set goals sends a very clear message to your team. Are you still focused on annual goals? That’s the exact opposite of agile. You may be tied into an annual goal-setting cycle by your company’s system, but as you work with your team, you can still use that as a context to agree FAST goals with them.

FAST goals are Frequently discussed, Ambitious, Specific, and Transparent. Build this approach into how you work with your team, it’s an essential foundation for 6 more agile leadership behaviors.

2. Talk about your team’s purpose

Without clarity of purpose, it can be much easier to resist change. Purpose will help your team members find the motivation to overcome their personal barriers to change and be more nimble and enthusiastic about change.

A wise manager once said this to me:

Change is not hard. But not changing is easier.

Talk to your team about the how they can find purpose at work. Take a look at spiritual energy in this energy management article.

Be willing to have that conversation with your team, and with individuals on your team, to help them find purpose in what they do.

3. Be responsive to your changing environment

It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one more responsive to change. Charles Darwin

The competitive environment in which we work is a perfect example of natural selection. Consider this: thanks to the creative destruction that fuels our economy, about half of today’s S&P 500 firms will be replaced over the next 10 years.

If you want to learn, grow, and thrive, you need to be able to lead your team through change.

This includes unlearning what is no longer true.

4. Build a culture of quick feedback

If you’re an agile certified project manager, you’ll know that a true definition of agile includes “the division of tasks into short phases of work and frequent reassessment and adaptation of plans”.

What does this look like for the rest of us, who are not agile qualified, in terms of agile leadership behavior?

Well, to reassess and adapt quickly and effectively you need feedback from your team. Quick feedback on what’s working, what’s not working, what needs to be changed, to reach those FAST goals that you’ve agreed.

Premortems can help. Also, work to build a culture of feedback within your team.

5. Don’t be a blocker – agile leaders delegate to accelerate

In my experience, most managers hold onto too much work and don’t delegate enough. This is what I hear from them:

It’s quicker if I do it myself.

This task must be done a certain way, I know how

The team won’t do this as well as I can

Of course, all these points are often true! You can do the work quicker, maybe the task needs to be done a certain way (but not always, sometimes it’s just your preference!), and you can probably do the work better.

But you should still delegate. Do it right, and you can quickly overcome these problems, develop your team members, and move quicker as a team. Take a four step approach to delegation:

  1. ‘Do the task and watch me’
  2. ‘We do the task together’
  3. ‘You do the task while I watch’
  4. ‘Set up a feedback loop and let them go’

You can find more in this article on the four basic steps to delegation.

6. Celebrate decision-making

It’s easy to celebrate decision-making when a team member makes the right decision. You should celebrate decision-making when a team member makes the wrong decision too.

Celebrate the right intent (even if the decision is wrong). Celebrate it as an opportunity to learn. Celebrate it as an opportunity to reassess and adapt.

In her article ‘How to encourage employees to take initiative’ Caryn Walsh identifies 9 ways to do just that:

  1. Create a safe, achievement-oriented culture
  2. Set exciting goals
  3. Hang with your people
  4. Create a culture of experimentation
  5. Keep it simple
  6. Reward achievers
  7. Lead by example
  8. Celebrate achievements
  9. Have fun

Lots of good advice that compliments the 7 tips for agile leadership behaviors that I’ve covered.

7. The final agile leadership behavior – scan the horizon

It’s easier to be agile when you see the future earlier. You’ll have more time to respond if you see change coming over the horizon, rather than when it’s just about to knock you down.

There’s a lot of detail in this Kearney article, aptly named: No one saw it coming.

Here’s an image from that article:

Practice scanning for trends, it’s a skill just like any other!

Agile Leadership behaviors – one last thought

These behaviors support and reinforce each other. It’s a classic case of ‘the whole is greater than the sum of the parts’.

Scanning the horizon will make it easier for you to be agile in response to change. Delegating works best when you celebrate decision-making too. Quick feedback enables FAST goals.

Integrate all these agile leadership behaviors and you’ll soon have a more nimble and agile team. A great foundation for success!