The 3 Criteria for Agile Leadership Practices

What does it mean for a leadership practice to be Agile?

FedEx days? Yes. Open Door policy? No. Moving Motivators? Yes. Time clocks? No! Transition backlogs? Certainly, yes. End-of-year bonuses? Definitely, no!

On Twitter I have claimed that a leadership practice is Agile when:

  1. It supports people and their interactions;
  2. It helps to deliver value to stakeholders;
  3. And it does this by improving the system.

Examples of Agile Leadership Practices

I consider the Gemba walk an Agile leadership practice because it requires a manager to interact with the teams who are doing the actual work. It is done in order to understand how value is delivered to customers and other stakeholders. And the goal is to find out how to help improve the system in which the people are doing their work.

On the other hand, I consider performance appraisals not an Agile leadership practice. Because research shows that such appraisals hurt people and their interactions. And they have nothing to do with delivering value to customers, or any other stakeholders. And performance appraisals are usually misguided in the sense that they attempt to improve people, instead of the system.

One-on-ones? If done well, yes. Mission statements? Quite often, no. Happiness index? Yes. Management meetings? Usually, no. Delegation poker? Yes, of course, I created it. Twitter rants? No, but I enjoy them anyway.

p.s. I call them Agile leadership practices, and not Agile management practices, because you don’t need a management position to start applying most of these practices. Nobody needs anyone’s permission to be an Agile leader.

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  • VFQDev

    Whilst the three criteria might be an easy way of categorising the approaches above, strangely the categorisation does not add much value.
    For example, the end of year bonuses at John Lewis (a UK Retailer), which is a partnership owned company no doubt achieves all three of your criteria. This is not driven necessarily by just monetary means, but it is a symbol of the unique ownership structure of the organisation that binds them and gives them meaning. Yet above, it is dismissed out of hand rather than looking at the context.
    Further more, Fed-Ex days have in many instances I have seen actually drive the complete opposite of those three. By treating fed-ex days as something special, it continues to drive an extrinsic motivation approach condemned by Dan Pink – despite his popularisation of this technique. Fed-Ex days should not be some special exception.
    The trick is not to drive through some random allocation of time or some false bonus scheme that rewards perceived performance, but to embed your three factors into the fabric of the company. When that happens, even tools like your ‘Definitely No’ can be turned into positive forces.

  • Hass

    Great post, thanks! People over processes mean you get better results by focusing on the people in an organisation and the boundaries you set than trying to control their interactions by processes.

  • rbucker

    This is a silly post. Soon the Agile community will take credit for the sunrise because “fill in the blank”. If the Agile community continues to pile on all this baggage then it will lose it’s meaning.

  • Jurgen Appelo

    The sun shows the right behavior without anyone putting any effort in it. Management in general doesn’t. So, I don’t really understand the comparison here.

  • Ben Linders

    Instead of qualifying some kind of leaderschip as agile, I would like to look on what kind of leadership helps to deploy agile. For instance, what is role of a project manager in agile ( Where should line managers focus upon when an organisation implements agile ( How can you manage the work for agile teams (

  • PM Hut

    I tend to agree…
    But I think it’s a good thing that the Agile community is promoting itself. On the other hand, the Waterfall community is really being passive when it comes to promoting itself (or at best, defending Waterfall or attacking Agile).
    The best projects in the world (since the beginning in time) were managed through Waterfall practices…

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