go back Post on December 17, 2016 1:39 am

(PDF) AGILE – humanizing leadership vf

A software approach to humanizing leadership in a digital age

Richard Bentley/ Dr. Tobias Kiefer

There’s a new meaning of 3D in the workplace these days – Digital, Disruption, Democratization. The combination is creating deep uncertainty about what the future workplace will really look like and how to prepare self and teams for the challenges ahead. As an executive shared with us last week: ‘You are either up for it or you might as well throw in the towel now!’

So how can today’s leaders meet the 3D challenge?

Throwing in the towel is not what we expect of our leaders. Instead, we want them to think about opportunities, and to grow through the challenges that 3D presents. For this they need a ‘growth mindset’, as defined by Carol Dweck. They also need to tap into their ‘meta-thinking’ and to reframe the enormous challenges and uncertainties that 3D is creating into a huge opportunity to create a new world of work. An opportunity to step up as a leader.

It appears that what’s needed is for leaders to focus all their attention on two crucial areas that we have called:

1. Dual Leadership

2. Humanizing Leadership

As Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism observes – “Leadership is not … about getting more done in less time. It’s about getting only the right things done … AGILE Leadership … is a systematic discipline for discerning what is absolutely essential, then eliminating everything that is not, so we can make the highest possible contribution towards the things that really matter“.

Dual Leadership: leading with two operating systems

We’ve seen how businesses can respond to marketplace threat either by failing to recognise the signals or by impetuously grasping the latest fad. So why not spread the risk?


If you are running a profitable business and you understand how this can be sustained, why throw away the success and why change the way you run your business? Keep running this business with its current operating system.


In parallel create a new ‘start up’ operating system – lean, agile, risk-taking and with the ability to accelerate ideas towards blockbuster solutions.

The assumption is that ‘dual leadership’ requires leaders to demonstrate very different types of leadership styles in very different environments. Yet is the difference as marked as we think? Yes, different generations and people with hugely different needs operating side by side may well see themselves as very different. Yet, hold on a second. Each has a brain which functions in much the same as their ancestors 1,000s of years ago. We can underestimate the fact that human brains operate with much the same functionality despite impressions to the contrary.

Humanizing Leadership: the art of achievement with people

So, do leaders need new competencies to implement the ‘dual leadership’ operating systems? The answer is no, provided that leaders learn how to humanize leadership, namely focus much more energy on the interfaces between human beings at the individual, team and organizational levels.

If the 3D predictions are true, we will experience a working world with dramatically reduced face-to-face interactions. We will see decision making becoming more and more a matter of consensus, if not a compromise. On the one hand, technology will help us create better and more effective collaboration tools; on the other, it’s predicted that we may witness continuing growth in work-related stress, which in 2015 was estimated to be costing the UK economy the UK £6.5 billion. Trend? Steep increase.

So why would a reduction in face-to-face interactions stimulate an increase in work-related stress?

One certain way of increasing workplace stress is to ignore the fact that as humans we are wired to be social (http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17237217-social). You will have noticed by now that collaboration technology is competing with itself. We can make calls using Skype, Zoom, Slack, Whatsapp, Facetime, Hangout … oh and not to overlook an old-fashioned telephone call. Managing these different channels is already a stretch for many people in the workplace. In addition, the times where you can have an un-interrupted high-quality dialogue allowing your brain to read others and react to their emotions is getting rare.

So, how can you lead people, when their brains are already in a significant away/threat mode, when you are unable to have a screen-free conversation, and when everyone is in a hurry? For example, interestingly the most often used button in an elevator is the ‘door close’ button, which we press 2-3 times just to make sure the elevator gets our message ‘I am in a hurry …’ In fact, there are many other of those placebo-buttons in our life: http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2016/10/the-soothing-futility-of-the-elevator-door-close-button.html).

The hypothesis is simple. The less often you can see and talk face-to-face with someone, the more this human touchpoint gains importance. This is why it is essential to humanise these infrequent touchpoints through people-centric dialogue and behaviors.

A new leadership paradigm = no.
A calibration = yes

There are more than 270,000 books on leadership on amazon.com and the US economy spends more than $14 billion each year on leadership initiatives. Do we need book 270,001 then? New competencies? Definitely not. Instead, let’s take the leadership capabilities which brought us to where we are today, and re-calibrate their importance.

Another hype we see in organizations: AGILE. So what can the AGILE approach tell us about leadership. Interesting enough, even though it is a software development technique, you can clearly observe the human aspect and intent behind it.

AGILE has values and principles that are very much in line what we expect of leaders in meeting the 3D challenge, particularly in enabling leaders to achieve two vital outcomes:

  • · Being agile in how they steer the business
  • · Being people centric in everything they do

Let’s have a look at the AGILE values and principles and interpret them from a leadership perspective of leadership.

Step 1: The AGILE Leadership Manifesto:

To discover better ways to develop our people and organizations everything we do is:

  • Prioritizing people over tools and techniques and processes
  • Communicating with people instead of talking at them and hiding behind comprehensive documentation
  • Fostering collaboration when analyzing scope and responsibility creep/ negotiation
  • Embracing and responding to change instead of sticking to a plan

We focus our leadership efforts on the activities written in bold and which require bold decisions. This is about bringing agility into the workplace – a workplace where the power is slowly shifting to the employee, towards those who vote either through social media or with their feet.

Step 2: The AGILE Leadership Principles (commonly known as ‘competencies’):

1. Thinking ahead: Our highest priority is to continuously produce the results expected ahead of time and above quality to satisfy our stakeholders (external and internal)

2. Embracing change: We welcome change, whether early or late in the process. We have the ability to re-appraise changing circumstances and we harness change for the sake of making our stakeholders more successful

3. Aligning priorities: We adapt our plans and priorities whether strategic or tactical, adapting to the new reality, whatever it takes

4. Aligning people: The right people work together on a daily basis. We do not ring fence resources, we bring them together

5. Engaging the motivated: We give projects to motivated people. We give them what they need to surprise our customers and ourselves: let them shape the project, give them learning opportunities, stretch them, allow them to connect and contribute and create a journey of achievements

6. Searching for dialogue: Face to face over electronics. We prefer to ‘lead by walking around’ and ‘lead by picking up the phone’ instead of managing by email

7. Creating happiness: A happy team is a highest performing team (measured by its results and measured by real data such as biometric data) and is the ultimate sign of success

8. Avoiding compromises: We do everything we do to keep the pace up. We do not compromise on deadlines and we see projects as a series of sprints

9. Desiring excellence: Continuous attention to excellence and an always open dialogue, even when stakes are high, are the foundation of our success

10. Simplifying: Simplicity is one of the key metrics, rather than the amount of documents and work hours

11. Trusting your teams: The best results and products emerge from self-organized teams

12. Learning as a team: The team conducts ‘After Action Reviews’ after each milestone (meeting/ event). Each meeting ends with a critical reflection on how to make the next one even more effective

13. Boosting your resilience: You will get the best out of your teams when they operate in vital environments and if they treat their mind and body like a Formula 1 car: get the best fuel into the tank and trim each element to its optimum

14. Creating a brain-friendly workplace: Work in sprints, but give your brain down-times. These are the times, where post-it notes or voice recorders will be of immense value.

15. Saying no to unhealthy routines: Role model vital leadership. Hold everyone accountable to stay hydrated and quit all the crap food in meetings/ coffee shops. Run meetings while walking or standing. You might be surprised about the positive impact it has on meeting outcomes.

A long list, so let’s be realistic. Pick the two or three that stand out above any others for you and start implementing those tomorrow. Then over a period of 30-60 days keep on adding others. Let us know your progress, your thoughts, your success stories – and for sure your hurdles you are bumping into.

Ask yourself – what if I become an Agile Leader? What if my boss would be an Agile Leader? What if we all operated following the Agile leadership principles?
What opportunities does this open up in a 3D world – for you as a leader, your teams, your organization?

Richard Bentley is Director of Q595 Ltd in London. A seasoned executive coach and coach trainer, Richard helps leaders to focus on their day to day interactions to get the best from themselves and others. His approach to developing a coaching-like leadership and communications style boosts employee engagement, productivity and better problem solving.

Dr. Tobias Kiefer is a Founding Partner of Q595 in Munich and Global Learning Leader for EY’s Advisory Business. He develops change & leadership solutions enabling leaders and entrepreneurs to become more resilient and more impactful through an agile approach to leadership.



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