Mar 8 • 4 min read

Sheri Lambert believes an agile leadership style is a great way to put business professionals on a path to long-term, sustainable success.

“Agile leadership is about re-engaging teams, revitalizing organizations and changing the way work gets done,” says Lambert, an assistant professor and managing director of the Center for Executive Education at the Fox School of Business. “It’s leadership for the next generation of business leaders.”

The agile approach has its early roots in the IT industry as innovative startups shifted management styles from a bottom-down approach to a more collaborative experience. The approach has since been integrated into a variety of industries and continues to become integral in leadership initiatives. 

“Traditional leadership practices are outdated and ineffective in today’s workplace, especially among millennials,” says Lambert. “Millennials have different needs and wants—especially when it comes to work. They demand more from their organizations and have different motivators than any generation before them.” 

But while more businesses are steadily incorporating an agile leadership approach into their workplace culture, it is not a one-size-fits-all strategy.

“Deciding what to do in an agile manner is critically important,” says Steve Hart, an executive coach who is one of two facilitators leading the Agile Leadership Workshop at the Center for Executive Education. “We’ve identified how to diagnose and decide what’s an appropriate agile-like approach for an organization, recognizing that agile is not a replacement for other types of business management, it’s in addition to them.”

Hart and co-facilitator Wayne Tarken believe business leaders have four roles in an agile initiative. The roles begin with diagnosing and deciding what’s an appropriate agile-like approach for an organization, followed by understanding how to be an agent of change in the organization are the first two.

“The third area, perhaps the most intense, is the agent of implementation,” Hart says. “There’s a lot of things happening that have to be led, not necessarily managed at the top, but they still have to be guided.” 

Then there is the agent of observation, reflection and learning.

“That’s about being able to stop the action every once in a while and check on the progress you’re making as well as the progress of the project that you’re working on,” he says.

Agile leaders also create a company that is inclusive, democratic and open to ideas. 

“They encourage people to share and implement those ideas while creating a vision that inspires others,” Lambert says. “They spend time developing their teams, not themselves. That creates a culture of self-organizing and self-managing teams.”

Leaders who invite the process of discovery into the conversation will have the most success.

“It’s about asking more questions versus advocating your opinion; listening deeply and focusing on what you might be missing, and then creating space to pause and reflect,” Lambert says. 

In 2018, Tarken founded the Agile HR Consortium, a global group of more than 60 organizations that collaborate on the development of practices, tools and resources that promote the adoption of agile into organizations.

He shares those insights with Agile Leadership Workshop participants at the Fox School.

“Agile is a way of working that really produces a lot of positive change for organizations regardless of the size and regardless of the industry,” Tarken says. “So if I’m the head of HR and my team’s not really producing what I like, we are going to offer you some techniques to get people more engaged, find out the real problems and come up with better solutions.”

As the past year has shown, business leaders can’t anticipate every disruption that comes their way.

“But what you can do is get better at responding to it,” Tarken says. 

Meetings are a good place to start to bring an agile leadership mindset into an organization.

“Typically people have weekly meetings, some lasting two or three hours,” he says. “You get excited, you have action items and you go out and do the work.”

Then something unexpected happens and that forward progression stops.

“We’re trained to find solutions and not bring problems,” he continues. “The person or team struggles and the next week, they won’t have accomplished anything. Agile is a different way. You meet more frequently, you identify problems the next day and you resolve things the day after that. 

“It’s a much more efficient, effective way that leads to higher engagement and better performance.”

To learn more about the Agile Leadership Workshop, click here.

Agile Leadership WorkshopExecutive EducationExperiential LearningFox Experiential EducationMarketing and Supply Chain ManagementSheri LambertWomens Leadership Series