ARTICLE 

Developing Strategic Agile Leadership

By Rose Restrepo Agile LeaderShip Consultant, Speaker, Author, Change Agent, and Certified Training Partner at Enterprise Agility University.

SUMMARY

For years we have experienced accompanying agile organizational transformations where we change agents change our strategies.

Some strategies have been successful and others have left us with lessons and opportunities for improvement. One of the biggest lessons is to involve the strategic leaders of the organization to make the organizational transformation successful.

We will know how to contribute from our role as change agents to strategic agile leadership to achieve their interplay in organizational transformations.

A strategic agile leadership must be empowered to motivate and communicate the transformation, be a part of it and add value to the organization.

KEYWORDS

Agile leadership, skills, competencies, practices, organizational transformation, strategies, change agent. 

Strategic leaders are also part of the transformation. How can we bring value to them?

When we, as change practitioners, have taken on the challenge of contributing to agile organizational transformation, we generally ask ourselves at what levels we should start. Some start at the team level, others at the senior or middle management level, and many integrate all three levels.

To deepen the answer to this question, in conversations with colleagues in Latin America, we pointed out the importance of top management involvement in agile organizational transformations.

We shared anecdotes where senior management, despite endorsing the initiative to incorporate agile into the organization, slowed down the adoption with decisions that were not in the spirit of agile values. As well as other experiences where senior managers embraced the spirit and were participants in the agile transformation.

We have also found senior managers aligned and contributing, but when they reach the middle level, these managers brush it off. As in other organizations where the strategic level of management only supports the initiative at the beginning and then forgets about it and it is the tactical level managers who are involved in the agile transformation.

In light of these findings, it is important that we as change practitioners develop effective strategies to achieve executive contribution in agile organizational transformations. Integrating the culture of experimentation, adaptation, learning, and collaboration into strategic leaders.

STATISTICAL RESEARCH

In addition to these insights from talking to change agents, we supplemented them with statistics from global agility reports:

In the 15th annual State of Agile Report (*1) – a survey conducted between February and April 2021 “insufficient leadership buy-in and support from management and sponsors are among the top barriers and challenges to scaling agility“.
In the Business Agility Reporting Responding to Disruption (*2). third edition 2020, respondents highlight leadership style, sponsorship and management as the biggest challenges they face on the agility journey.
In addition, respondents rate business agility maturity significantly higher when the C-suite or board is leading the journey, compared to companies led by a line of business leader (11% higher).
For all these reasons, there is a need to prepare and mentor strategic leaders.

1. https://stateofagile.com/#ufh-c-7027494-state-of-agile
2. https://businessagility.institute/learn/2020-business-agility-report-responding-to-disruption/

DEFINING A STRATEGIC AGILE LEADER

Effective agile transformation requires a new leader who integrates agile values into their strategy. A strategic agile leader aligns their decisions with the higher purpose of the organization to create an agile ecosystem and generate an agile mindset. As shown below:

Figure 1 by Rose Restrepo

A strategic agile leader creates:

  • Synergies between all parts of the organization to generate products and services of value to the customer.
  • A chain of support for the various levels of tactical, operational and strategic leadership.
  • A contribution in the internal and external ecosystem community.
 

In short, a STRATEGIC AGILE LEADER generates an environment of co-creation, collaboration, happiness. Inspires trust, autonomy. Drives collective performance, experimentation and continuous improvement, resulting in innovative solutions, products and services that are co-created and of value to the business.

PURPOSE OF A STRATEGIC LEADER

As change practitioners, we guide strategic leaders to envision their purpose, achieve it, and be in alignment with it on a daily basis. Let us give some examples of purpose:

  • To achieve organizational competitiveness and customer satisfaction.
  • To give confidence to the people and the organisation
  • Contribute to the development and satisfaction of the people you come into contact with every day.
  • Promote the agile transformation
VALUES OF A STRATEGIC LEADER

Just as in 2001 classic agile (the ideas coming from the Agile manifesto) conceptualized values in its manifesto, we as change agents replicated this analogy and brought together the strategic leaders of the organization to collectively conceptualize the values that they will integrate into their management.
At the end of this exercise, you would get values like:

  • Creativity and the joy of experiencing routine
  • Collaboration and co-creation over individuality
  • Autonomy and trust over taxation
  • Experimentation and continuous improvement over stagnation
SKILLS OF A STRATEGIC AGILE LEADER

As change practitioners, we must devote much of our energy to supporting a manager in addition to supporting teams and people in an agile transformation. To improve the skills required to benefit from their role in a transformation.

What skills should we develop for them?

Let us start with the definition of the word capability: “When a capability manifests itself and enables the application of knowledge to a specific reality for its transformation.” (Wikipedia)

To answer the question of what capabilities we should develop, let us look at different researches and then draw a conclusion:

According to the EAE – Business School-Harvard Deusto the skills of a leader are:

  • Know how to delegate
  • Coordination and collaboration skills
  • Strategic planning
  • Communication skills
  • Empathy
  • Motivation and inspiration
  • Courage for decisions
  • Commitment
  • Problem-solving
  • Resilience
 

Bob Johansen , in his book “Leaders Make the Future”, presents the 10 skills that the leader of the future must acquire to face a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world and have a positive impact on the future:

  • Execution instinct: Experiment and then improve.

  • Clarity: analyze modern life and foresee the future.

  • Dilemma Transformation: Analyze different perspectives to identify opportunities. o Immersive learning: experience new and unfamiliar worlds to gain first-hand knowledge.

  • Bioempathy: Respect the cycles of nature and change. Include bioempathy in decisions – connects life and biology, for sustainability and future viability.

  • Constructive disporalization: bi-directional teaching between youth and adults.

  • Serene transparency: be open and authentic.

  • Rapid prototyping: learning quickly and measuring results in a timely manner to lead in a world of uncertainty. o Smart band organization: formed to share a common goal or other plans, such as achieving economies of scale o Commons creation: sharing a common good for mutual benefit – win win. E.g. platforms that anyone can use, deploy and share.

Taking the two previous perspectives and experience, let’s integrate in a picture the basic skills to be developed by the strategic agile leader:

Figure 2 by Rose Restrepo

Once we, as change practitioners, give them a deck of capabilities as strategic agile leaders, they can prioritize which ones they want to develop. Once those are identified, we can do a measurement of how they perceive the capabilities. Then guide them in incorporating different behaviors into their approach to agile transformation. And when some time has passed, measure again and continue to develop the capabilities.

CAPABILITIES OF A STRATEGIC LEADER

The word capacity is sometimes used synonymously with ability. Just as we define ability, we will do so with the word capacity. “When we relate concrete knowledge to a reality context and expand our cognitive field.” 
In the following figure we present the 5 most important capabilities that need to be improved in an agile strategic leadership for an agile transformation.

Figure 3 by Rose Restrepo

To support strategic agile leaders as change agents, we can introduce them to these capabilities and agree with them on which capabilities to start working on. Then, if they agree, we begin a mentoring process to gradually incorporate these capabilities into everyday leadership in an organic way through the execution of actions or behaviors.

CONTINUOUSLY UP-TO-DATE TO OPTIMIZE THEIR WORK

A strategic agile leader makes things happen, empowers their people, cultivates relationships, makes bold decisions, and takes risks.
To contribute to the work of a strategic agile leader, it’s important to keep your knowledge current. This is because management theories are modernized and multiplied by new technologies that emerge in the markets.


Therefore, as agile practitioners. we can integrate a learning plan that includes leadership, transformational coaching, administration, finance, technology, human resource management, agility or other topics, depending on the context in which the leader is moving. And guide a training plan to incorporate the types of transformational, intentional, exponential, agile and theal leadership into their leadership.

OPTIMIZING STRATEGIC AGILE LEADERSHIP

As change agents, we are also in constant reinvention and technological vigilance for new practices and frameworks to support our leaders. Therefore, we have started to survey some experiments on the application of the different types of agility, integrating practices that we had not previously integrated into the strategic agile leader, such as organizational health, psychological safety, neuroplasticity, microhabits and others, surveyed by Erich R. Buhler and the Enterprise Agility University.
I will share the results and learnings from the next planned experiments in a future article.

1. Incorporate the behaviors of the different types of agility by introducing changes in some behaviors of leaders based on these concepts:

Figure 4 Five Types of Agility

2. We will also experiment with implementing a radar that measures a strategic agile leader’s behaviors in each type of agile and begin measuring them next quarter to track their development as a strategic agile leader.

3. We will start to introduce the leaders to some exponential leadership models proposed by Erich R. Bühler and Enterprise Agile University to conclude with them which can help them to improve their participation in agile transformations and we will experiment with them: BOIS, ATO and Ring model.
Examples:

  • ATO model: strives for organizational health and aligns every decision in four quadrants: Increase Revenue, Protect Revenue, Reduce Costs, and Avoid Costs. To apply the ATO model, we will experiment with each decision the manager makes in the next quarter and align the actions to be taken so that organizational health is not compromised.

  • BOIS model: aims to align basic behaviors, focus on a few, align them with organizational goals, and look for early wins whose impact is positive for employee well-being and organizational sustainability. To try out the BOIS model, we will work with the change agent and strategic leader to propose which behaviors to focus on, which strategies to use to align them, which early wins to expect, and check each time to see if the impact of these is positive.

  • Ring model: at its core, it’s based on classic agile with three questions: did we build the right thing? Did we build it right? Did we build it fast enough? And around that, it integrates three dimensions: Individuals with sustainable habits that allow them to do their jobs safely and with minimal effort, increasing innovation, and aligning strategy with exponential markets.

To show you more of the ring model, we will review with managers and change practitioners the strategies implemented for classic agility and reinforce them with actions to focus on the well-being of individuals, bring strategic innovation and have in mind the exponential markets.

CONCLUSIONS: STRATEGIES FOR DEVELOPING A STRATEGIC LEADER

As change practitioners, we constantly ask ourselves what would be the ideal strategy to engage an agile manager in a value strategy.
Strategies that include being, knowing and doing.

  • Develop yourself, through discovering your purpose and values as a strategic agile leader.
  • Optimize their work, through developing their skills and abilities.
  • Develop their knowledge, through learning and training in topics related to agile leadership.
 

 

A strategic agile leader must be able to motivate and communicate, be part of the transformation and add value to the organization.

Thank you for reading and sharing your comments and insights related to the topic.

By Rose Restrepo Agile LeaderShip Consultant, Speaker, Author, Change Agent, and Certified Training Partner at Enterprise Agility University.

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