5 Ways to Be an Agile Leader

Leadership can feel like an endless journey in putting out fires: circumstances can change at a moment’s notice. Here are 5 ways to be an agile leader:

Use cognitive diversity to your advantage. Cognitive diversity refers to the different ways in which your team views the world, your organization, and even one another. Those preferences can make their presence known in different ways: Some of us are naturally attuned to seeing new possibilities, others to ways in which already existing systems or processes can be improved. You might think first in terms of relationships, while others are drawn to understanding a body of knowledge. Your teammates might enjoy seeing the big picture…or they might not. These differences can give you as a leader additional perspectives that you might not otherwise have, can suggest different alternatives than you’ve seen, and can help anticipate barriers. The Lab can help you assess your team’s cognitive (sometimes called strategic) diversity.

Leverage psychological safety. Change – the essence of agile leadership – requires that we learn: if something isn’t working, we need to investigate. What (if any) parts are working? Is it not working for everyone, or just for some? Creating an environment where learning is a group habit requires psychological safety. In psychologically safe teams, people feel safe being themselves and expressing their thoughts and ideas. Learn more about psychological safety.

Ask questions. Build the habit of asking appreciative questions that start with words like “Imagine…” or “What would it look like if we…” Appreciative questions help people see a future that isn’t there yet, and connect with a mission or issue they really care about – something that’s especially important at times when it’s easy to only see the roadblocks. Pro tip: ask someone to help you craft good questions; some of us are naturally good at it, but most questions are improved when more than one person works on them.

Embrace the small start. Don’t throw all of your resources at an unproven approach – find a way to quickly test out some or all of a proposed solution. Create a low(er)-stakes environment for what Amy Edmondson calls “intelligent failure” – where you can learn, adjust, and try again. It might be a pilot, a prototype, or a “Phase 1” launch. Build in frequent check-ins to assess progress and make adjustments as needed. Read more about the value of experiments.

Share the load. There’s a reason firefighters don’t work solo – you need both practical and emotional support to be a good agile leader. Identify people both inside your organization and outside its walls who can provide a listening ear, companionship on a brisk walk, and maybe even a good meal when times get tough.

The Lab’s Strategic Doing trainings provide practical skills – these, and many others. Learn more and find a course that’s right for you.