Agile leadership

What is agile leadership?

This is an abstract.

Agility requires leadership and simultaneously impacts all employees and leaders and their behaviors. Agile leadership is focused on bringing about positive change in the organization by helping agile leaders adopt the agile leadership model that is right for you.

What for? To keep up with the rapidly changing requirements!

Today's leaders are striving to keep pace with rapidly changing business needs and must recognize that rapid adaptation is critical to their success. They need to rethink their role as a leader, their relationship with their employees, and the culture of their company.

Leadership in Agile Lean environments requires a new understanding of leadership.

A good summary of Douglas McGregor's X-Y theory can be found in the book by Ulf Brandes: "Management Y: Agile, Scrum, Design Thinking & Co.: So gelingen der Wandel zur attraktiven und zukunftsfähigen Organisation", Campus, 2014, page 22ff. The graphic was also taken from this book.

Comparison of Theory Y and Theory X

Agility needs an environment in which intrinsic motivation is encouraged.

The Theory Y belief system says that people are intrinsically ambitious and want to make their contribution to something. People are intrinsically motivated according to Theory Y. They can manage themselves and impose discipline and control on themselves to achieve meaningful goals. They see work as a source of satisfaction and take pleasure in their performance.

The opposite pole is an environment in which theory X is promoted - consciously or unconsciously. The belief here is that people are lazy by nature and try to avoid work as much as possible. According to theory X, people are extrinsically motivated. They are to be guided by specifications and rewarded or sanctioned by appropriate measures.

Agile leadership means that I create a framework that pays into the Theory Y picture.

Agility means designing an organization according to Y principles - and letting go of X techniques. This requires trust, courage and foresight. That's why agility is easy to understand, but challenging to implement.

Agile leadership means providing alignment and framework to enable autonomy.

Autonomy and common alignment are often perceived as opposites. In fact, autonomy needs alignment and a framework to be effective. The trick is to provide leadership in an agile organization that provides alignment and an organizational framework that enables autonomy to work towards a common goal. Chaos and anarchy, by the way, are the opposite of agility - albeit a willful misconception that is readily used.

Aspects of leadership: Alignment, autonomy and constraints

Little alignment and little autonomy.

This is a micromanagement culture with a lot of ad hoc tasks. It is inefficient because different teams are constantly running in different and changing directions.

Little alignment and a lot of autonomy.

Here, each team does what it wants. A difficult task for managers who can only hope that the right thing happens

A lot of alignment, but little autonomy.

This is the top-down culture, where goals and path are set. This means a lot of work for managers.

A lot of alignment and a lot of autonomy.

This is the goal in a Lean-Agile organization: shared alignment via vision and goals while maintaining autonomy over the path.

An Agile leader needs new tools for leadership

The "Y basic attitude" and the need of an agile organization for alignment and an enabling organizational framework needs suitable instruments for leadership. The four principles of lean management are a helpful guideline for leadership in an agile organization.

Management tools according to the Lean Leadership principles

In our opinion, it is the task of an agile leader to bring these principles to life in everyday life. This also means developing your own repertoire of techniques.

The separation of powers promotes leadership

Separation of powers is a technique that separates the three leadership aspects of alignment, framework and autonomy. This achieves:

  • a clearer focus

  • Better decisions through mutual responsibility

  • Move decision-making and control as close as possible to the point of execution to gain speed.

Classical organizations with one directive giver always have the challenge that the organizational structures work with a bundling of responsibility to a single person (directive giver). A separation of powers cannot then be mapped, and new leadership roles (such as the Scrum Master in Scrum) remain undocumented, neutered and unattractive.

One of the most important steps in an agile transformation is therefore to officially map the separation of powers in leadership together with HR. This makes the roles of agile organizational structures transparent, seriously empowered and sustainably established


Frank Eberhard

wibas GmbH

Frank Eberhard

Otto-Hesse-Str. 19B

64293 Darmstadt

+49 6151 503349-0