Agile Leadership Part II

In my previous blog, I spent a bit of time discussing the background and history of the term “Agile.”  Originally developed as a new approach to software development in the early 2000’s, the term made the jump into the leadership literature in 2006-07 (You may be interested in reading one of the comments in response to my last blog that includes some interesting additional information about the nature of Agile IT).

I also mentioned that when new leadership models emerge, some are quite unique or novel, while others borrow from previous ideas and repackage them under a new leadership name.  Agile Leadership, it appears, falls into the second category.

Since that time, many authors and practitioners have weighed in on the qualities, characteristics, traits and behaviors of Agile Leadership.  And unlike leadership models such as Situational Leadership II, Transformational Leadership and Rost’s Leadership Model, which are very clearly defined and recognized as a set of specific components, there is no consensus regarding the “this is what Agile Leadership is” perspective.

With that in mind, I surveyed the literature regarding Agile Leadership.  My initial analysis identified a good number of traits, characteristics, and behaviors.  I stopped at 55.  Then I began to look for overlap, synonyms, similarities, etc. among my list, choosing what I felt were the best terms to capture any related ones.  My list went to 40, then 30, then 20, and finally settled on 15.

Of course, someone else looking at the initial 55 terms may have ended with a different list.  Nevertheless, I offer these 15.  I’ve alphabetized them to avoid any sense of rank ordering of importance.  Agile Leaders:

  1. Adapt

  2. Align employees sense of purpose with mission and vision

  3. Anticipate

  4. embrace Change

  5. Collaborate

  6. Communicate

  7. demonstrate Compassion

  8. are Critical Thinkers

  9. are Emotionally Intelligent

  10. behave Ethically and with Integrity,

  11. have Fun

  12. are Humble

  13. Inspire

  14. are Servant Leaders

  15. show Resilience

Number 14 is interesting–Servant Leaders.  When I began studying Agile Leadership several years ago, I found that some of the characteristics and behaviors reminded me of servant leadership.  That thought was confirmed when I found other authors commenting about the same thing–that agile leaders should be servant leaders. 

Like Servant Leadership, Agile Leadership is more of a mind-set about leading, not only a list. Without a doubt, it belongs on any Agile Leader list.

So, what do you think about my list?  With which ones do you resonant?

It’s still pretty long. Tough to be good at all of these.  Perhaps the best approach to these characteristics and behaviors of the Agile Leader is to choose those that represent your strengths and get better at them.

And, then, identify others who are good at those you aren’t and find ways for them to shine.  Learn from them. Let them lead with their strengths.  Collectively (and collaboratively–number 5 from above), you’ll accomplish bigger things and show the kind of agility that is necessary in the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) environment in which today’s organizations live.

To put a cap on this series, I’ll share one more related blog.  It’ll be about how to create an “Agile Organization.”

Until then, take care.  And if you’re a Kansas City fan, enjoy the win!

Jim Dittmar


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Jim Dittmar, Ph.D.


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