He is the second richest man in the world and built his fortune on agile leadership. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos tamed bureaucracy and made his company one of the most nimble and profitable on the planet.
Bezos organizes his workforce into “two-pizza” teams, small enough to be powered by two pizzas and flexible enough to move quickly. They are agile, highly autonomous, have a clear purpose and innovate quickly.
The multi-billionaire in online retail and cloud services expects everyone in their organization to put the customer first. He is known to leave an empty seat at the conference table and tells his staff that they should consider the seat occupied by their client: the most important person in the room.
Its “multiple paths to yes” approach fosters a strong internal process of sharing ideas. Each employee could present their ideas to the company’s leaders.
By empowering teams and always being customer-centric, agile leaders like Bezos can unleash the full potential of their workforce. They know how to build high performing teams to keep them at the top of their game.
Just as they avoid placing the individual above the group, agile leaders do not place themselves above the team. Although capable of bold actions, they work behind the scenes to facilitate processes. They don’t try to be heroes or micro-managers, rather they strive to produce the desired results for the business.
“The changes for everyone involved are profound, but so are the results when everyone’s goals and ways of working are aligned. Effective leadership is key to supporting this change,” says Simon Kneafsey, Professional Scrum Trainer at The Scrum Master.
“Many organizations are still in the midst of the changes needed to increase agility and more leaders within these organizations need to adapt the way they work to adapt to this new environment. This move towards increased agility is essential to deal with the increasing complexity of the world of work in the 21st century.
Judging by the characteristics of successful agile business leaders, they are focused, dynamic, strategic, bold, open, inspiring, collaborative, always listening, continuously learning, resilient and able to deal with disruptions frequent.
As part of an agile leadership model, staff are encouraged to share ideas and experiment. Communication is seamless and employees have the information they need to make quick decisions with confidence. This minimizes bureaucratic obstacles that stifle creativity.
Agile leaders communicate openly with their team members and are always listening and observing. Listening to frontline employees is key to agile leadership because practical process solutions are likely to come from the people most intimately familiar with them. Giving and receiving feedback are equally important.
If an initiative isn’t working, agile leaders don’t blame it. They look at the data to see why it didn’t work and use what they learn from it to correct the course.
Create a culture of safety
Above all, they lead by example and create an inclusive culture in which teams feel recognized for their contribution. Team spirit and a positive environment are encouraged.
Fundamentally, agile teams rely on psychological safety – an environment of rewarded vulnerability – to engender collaborative dialogue.
Write in the harvard business reviewTimothy R Clark, Founder and Managing Director of LeaderFactor, a global leadership consulting and training company, says high psychological safety elicits performance response, with innovation as the goal, while low psychological safety drives a fear reaction, with survival as the object.
“When team members stop asking questions, admitting mistakes, exploring ideas, and challenging the status quo, they stop being agile,” Clark says.
“Remember there is always the risk that a team’s culture will revert to fear-based norms, so focus on individuals and interactions as the top priority. Small, seemingly insignificant acts of disrespect, rudeness or indifference can push a team towards withdrawal and personal risk management.
As Bezos and other successful agile leaders know, the rewards are plentiful. According to State of Agile Culture Report, building a strong agile culture will result in a 237% increase in business performance. The incentive to be an agile leader could hardly be greater.
Leaders’ Biggest Challenge
But the report highlights that adopting an agile culture is cited by 48% of organizations as their biggest challenge.
He finds that leadership is the key to building a strong agile culture and that empowerment is key to unlocking that, especially as remote working has increased due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“To make progress, leaders must relinquish control, ensure their teams have the clarity and skills to achieve the same goal. It can be a difficult transition for a leader, but it’s an important step to take,” he says.
However, there is a lack of commitment and underinvestment in leadership development. “Too often, leaders invest heavily in learning and developing agility for delivery personnel, but neglect the equivalent for themselves,” the report says.
He warns that the number of business leaders perceived by employees to be using agile approaches, such as effectively prioritizing the most important outcomes and experimenting to improve performance, fell to 44% last year from 56. % in 2020.
Thus, there seems to be some disconnect between what agile leaders think they accomplish and how they are perceived, indicating the need for greater and improved contribution.
“A lot of organizations call themselves agile but don’t understand it and haven’t really embraced it yet,” Kneafsey says. “Managers are encouraged to install agility but are not empowered by the organization to make the necessary changes.”
Employees closest to work often experience the negative effects of this reality, he says, and that number has increased “as more and more organizations have become nimble to manage the effects of the pandemic.”
Without the right training, skills, and broader organizational support, many leaders will struggle to be effective, Kneafsey says. “The transition to an agile organization is important and requires time, resources and ongoing support.”