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Agile leaders: enablers and disrupters

Updated: May 3, 2020

We’ve long been business agility fans. See our previous Tea and Toast notes (May 2017) and the White Paper, Crooked Timber Thinking Before Agile.

Simon Hayward’s The Agile Leader articulates an important idea about this approach. Agile leaders are enablers of the people they lead, and disrupters at the same time. And that’s a paradox some will find hard to embrace in reality.

The enabling leader

What does this mean? Well, some ideas we’re familiar with. They’re learning agile; they encourage learning, experimentation, iteration, and learning from failure.

Enabling leaders provide direction, but not necessarily how to get there. They’re socially adept, have high EQ, and collaborate. This collaboration is not always easy. In fact, stretch collaboration is often essential. What’s that? It’s when groups have very different values and are working to different outcomes—then the only way is iteration and small steps.

And lastly, enabling leaders empower their people.

The disruptive leader

They get the big picture of changing customer, societal, digital, and sector needs. And once they’ve got it, they know it’ll change again.

The disruptive leader is decisive, and knows the dangers of too much system one thinking (gut instinct), but also too much analysis. The world is moving fast, and putting prototype ideas out there into the real world is what agile is all about.

They introduce new ways of thinking and question the status quo, as well as encouraging others to question it.

These ideas apply to all sectors: private, public, and NGO. All leaders need to embrace ambiguity, paradox, and complexity in the world they live and lead in.


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