— March 21, 2019
With their ability to connect, adapt, and deliver, agile leaders play a vital role in helping organizations meet the challenges of a competitive global market. Agile leaders leverage their skills to foster connections, help employees enhance performance, build effective teams, and drive change successfully.
But they’re not infallible. Agile leaders can make mistakes like anyone else. The real test is whether or not they learn from them to become more effective.
5 Mistakes Agile Leaders Need to Watch Out For
1: Not Communicating Expectations
Agile leaders tend to have a clear idea of what they think needs to happen for an organization to succeed. They often develop a comprehensive strategy with that vision in mind and delegate key tasks across a variety of teams to achieve those goals. Once these initiatives are in place, agile leaders oversee implementation and troubleshoot problems as they emerge.
It’s a great approach that perfectly defines the role of the agile leader.
Except it often doesn’t work that way.
Agile leaders have a specific perspective on the problems they’re trying to solve. They understand the overall purpose of each initiative and how specific tasks relate to each other. Sometimes, that information isn’t adequately communicated to team members who are pursuing those goals. Agile leaders cannot assume that people automatically know what is expected or why it is important.
The key problem with people not knowing what’s expected of them relates to accountability. If someone doesn’t have a clear idea of what they’re supposed to do or what “good” work looks like, agile leaders will not be able to set them up for success or hold them accountable if they fail to deliver. By clearly establishing expectations and making sure that team members understand what they’re doing and why it’s important, agile leaders will not only promote better accountability but also drive engagement and keep people inspired.
2: Not Using Failure as a Learning Opportunity
The danger of being forward thinking is not taking the time to look back. Agile leaders excel at finding solutions to problems, even problems of their own making. Sooner or later, even the best agile leaders will make a mistake. Dealing with the consequences of that mistake is only part of the equation, however. Once the problem is resolved, it’s important to understand what went wrong in the first place to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
Agile leaders need to make a habit of reviewing their miscues to determine whether or not they were part of a larger pattern or an isolated incident. Reviewing available data and gathering feedback are crucial steps in this process. Without this reflection, agile leaders may downplay the importance of previous mistakes and move on to the next challenge rather than holding themselves accountable. Over time, this can undermine trust and credibility, especially if team members come to believe that accountability is a one-way street.
3: Adapting Too Quickly
In the heat of the moment, it can be tempting to take some action—any action—for the sake of doing something. Change flexibility and adaptability are, after all, hallmark traits of agile leaders. When a strategy doesn’t seem to be working out the way they planned, their inclination is to change course quickly.
But patience is often a virtue. Agile leadership isn’t about making decisions purely on instinct. Effective agile leaders understand that decisions made without sufficient data or feedback are likely to be guided by biases and assumptions. While they may not have as much information as they would like, gathering data can help them assess the problem accurately and develop better solutions as a result.
Agile leaders must also have the foresight to determine whether the challenges they’re facing represent a short term issue or a long term one. Especially during change initiatives, staying the course to see a strategy through may be the best choice.
4: Fear of Failure
One of the most difficult tasks agile leaders face is making decisions that have a great deal of risk associated with them. While organizations often talk about promoting risk taking as a way of encouraging new ideas and innovation, the consequences of failure usually end up falling on leaders who are willing to take those chances. However, without a process to manage the risks associated with their decisions, these leaders are ultimately held accountable for the consequences.
Because agile leaders understand the inter-relationship between different areas of their organizations, they may hesitate to make a decision they know will create disruption. Sometimes, though, these changes are necessary for the organization to become more agile and move forward. Driving innovation, for instance, might be worth disrupting certain processes if the long term benefits justify the choice. Putting off those hard choices for fear of negative consequences can be even more detrimental than the consequences themselves in the long run.
5: Becoming Reactive Instead of Proactive
Agile leaders are valued for their adaptability and change flexibility, but these qualities should never be considered a substitute for strategic thinking. Effective agile leaders must be able to respond quickly to change, of course, but one of the ways they do so is by anticipating future needs and potential outcomes behind every decision
Understanding how different aspects of an organization are connected allows them to anticipate how changes in one area of operations will affect another. This helps them to take a proactive approach to challenges, laying the groundwork for future decisions rather than constantly reacting to the crisis of the moment. Responding to problems as they emerge is a valuable skill, of course, but relying on those leadership qualities too heavily will make it difficult to develop a long-term vision for achieving organizational goals.
Agile leaders are critical to the success of any organization. Their ability to connect, adapt, and deliver allows them to strike an effective balance between immediate needs and future goals. Even so, these highly-adaptable leaders must be on guard against habits that could diminish their effectiveness.