3 Steps to Transformational Leadership for Business Agility | TechWell

3 Steps to Transformational Leadership for Business Agility

Cocoon and a butterfly

Scrum, Extreme Programming, kanban, and other team-based agile methods have helped thousands of organizations all over the world reduce time to market, improve customer and employee satisfaction, and reduce costs. Agile methods have also been extended to the program and portfolio levels with SAFe, LeSS, Disciplined Agile Delivery, and Scrum at Scale.

Beyond processes and team-based, iterative work, organizational agility, or business agility, is the next step.

Business agility is the customer-focused, holistic organizational embrace of agile across the entire enterprise. Business agility extends agile to non-IT business functions—most importantly, to the C-suite.

Transformational leadership is fundamental to business agility. Our leadership practices have not evolved at the same rate as technology; work and people are tied to hierarchical structures and linear processes unsuited to our current turbulent environment. Employees want new approaches from leadership and management in many areas, especially those that relate to company policies, administration, supervision, and the employee-manager relationship.

Transformational leadership consists of three components: lead with focus, change the system, and steer from the edges.

Lead with Focus

Through a focused presence, leaders embody the values and qualities that draw people and influence them. Focused leadership means showing up and carrying oneself with authentic and trust-inspiring openness, a willingness to listen and learn, and a centered, confidence-inspiring presence. 

Daniel Goleman, author and expert on emotional intelligence, indicates three types of focus: inner, outer, and other, as illustrated below.

Daniel Goleman's depiction of three types of focus: inner, outer, and other

Steer from the Edges

An organization’s most creative and valuable work occurs when there is an optimum balance between flexibility and structure, control and freedom, and optimization and exploration. But keeping the organization on this creative edge comes with the risk of veering off course.

Managing an organization as a complex system in this manner requires adaptive steering, rather than a linear command-and-control style. An excellent way for executives to steer from the edges is to encourage autonomy via a Colleague Letter of Understanding, where colleagues outline specific activities they commit to accomplishing, making roles and responsibilities clear to everyone.

Change the System

From lean thinking, we know that performance and behavior are directly dependent on the organizational system. To enable autonomy, we need to change the underlying organizational system. We need to get people working horizontally across functions regularly, not as an exception, but as a rule.

In an adaptive model, complex, intelligent behavior emerges from the interactions of team members following simple, generative rules. Superior outcomes are achieved by specifying the rules for teams and encouraging their creativity.

This new and dynamic organizational structure needs to be accompanied by modern people operations processes. For example, leading companies like Virgin and LinkedIn dramatically improve employee engagement through open workspaces, flexible work hours, unlimited vacation, and team profit sharing.

Building your agile organization only starts with developing software in an agile way. The next step is transforming your business. Managers who want a truly agile organization must lead with focus, steer from the edges, and change the system.

Sanjiv Augustine is presenting the session Transformational Leadership for Business Agility at the Agile + DevOps East 2018 conference, November 4–9 in Orlando, Florida.

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