At TeamCatapult, we believe that the single greatest predictor of high performance and successful change lies in who leaders are BEING in conversations and how they are ENGAGING. We don’t operate from lists of “do this—not that.” Instead, we hold the perspective that all behaviors are choices that either produce the intended outcome or produce an unintended consequence. From this lens, becoming agile is less about right and wrong and more about awareness and choice.

learning to be an agile leader

The Quality of Leadership Communication

Research consistently demonstrates that team effectiveness is highly dependent upon the quality of communication between team members. The quality of communication is how we explain why some teams are high performing and others struggle. It’s how we explain why some organizations are successful at large organizational changes and others are not. And it’s how we explain why we might have very engaging and productive conversations with some people and end up in complete frustration with others. What often inhibits a team’s potential is how they show up and engage (or not) in the conversation. 

Being Agile vs Doing Agile

Organizations that are successful at agility did not get there because they implemented the latest best practices. It’s not that they figured out the holy grail of team development or that they took the latest Kanban tool and prioritized work. They are likely DOING these things, but that’s not why they are finding success. 

It’s not WHAT they are doing, it’s HOW.

  • It’s how their leaders are BEING when they show up in the room
  • It’s how they ENGAGE when they’re talking with their teams 

How we show up and how we engage makes all the difference. Who are we being when the bottom drops out of the stock? How are we talking when a delivery does not go as planned? 

“As a leader, the single MOST effective thing you can do to change your organizational culture and grow agile leadership at all levels is to develop your ability to understand and to choose how you show up and how you engage.” 

How Leaders Show Up

Awareness precedes choice, precedes change.

What kind of leader do you want to be? 

In agile leadership, who we are being when we show up in the room can make or break a team’s dynamic, its ability to work through complex problems, and the quality of its solutions.

That’s why it’s important to understand the characteristics of who you want to BE as a leader—and feel at choice in how you show up to every conversation. In our work with leaders, we start by introducing 4 characteristics that we’ve seen modeled by successful agile leaders time and time again:

1) Leaders Show Up Focused

What’s your vision? What are you saying ‘yes’ to? And, more importantly, what are you saying ‘no’ to? 

The choice here is focus. It is clarity for yourself and for others about what’s important—and what’s the most important thing next. Focus has a cadence. It means you’re maintaining just the right level of strategy, purpose, and intent. You’re not so detailed that your focus changes every minute, and you’re not so broad that you don’t have the benefit of clarity.

When you are choosing focus, you are committing your attention. You are choosing to feel focused over feeling frazzled, scattered, and busy. 

2) Leaders Need To Be Creative 

Zig Ziglar once said, “It’s not what happens to you in life that matters. It’s how you respond to what happens to you that makes a difference.”

You can choose to create; to focus on the future and away from a past whose outcome you can’t change. Being creative comes from a place of hope, vision, and taking a systems perspective. It’s about asking, “what do I want to create?” If you don’t like the current situation, what would your ideal be?  What’s possible? What’s next? 

Being creative is the belief that you can create what you want. And tapping into vision and creativity is far more productive than being fearful and reactionary.

3) Leaders Should Be Adaptive 

Being adaptive means choosing to inhabit the space of emergence, to be okay with not knowing, and to be open to sensing what’s needed next. 

Ron Heifitz, in his book The Practice of Adaptive Leadership, makes an important distinction between “technical problems”—problems that have a clear definition and are easily solved by experts—and “adaptive challenges.” Adaptive challenges are problems whose solutions require exploration, experimentation, new learning, and changes to beliefs, values, and mindsets. 

Becoming Agile as a business is the very definition of adaptive.

There is no roadmap, only hypotheses and learning to determine the next action.  

4) Leaders Choose to Be Dialogic 

William Issacs, in his book Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together, defines dialogue as a shared inquiry—a way of thinking and reflecting together, particularly when the stakes are high. 

Choosing to be dialogic is about seeking the collective intelligence in order to unfold new thinking and innovation that we would not or could not get to on our own. 

Basically, it’s a way of being open and curious. Of joining with others in exploration. Of being aware of your own perspective and willing to share in a way that is not about convincing or influencing others. 

There is a balance between having a clear opinion and perspective (advocacy) and genuinely seeking to understand others without clinging to our own viewpoints (inquiry). Being dialogic means choosing to find that balance.


Read more in this next article titled “How Leaders Engage: Learning to Be an Agile Leader” 

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Padma Putrevu
Padma Putrevu
1 year ago

An impressive article packed with nuggets of wisdom in each sentence. A recent experience resonates deeply with “who we are being when we show up in the room can make or break a team’s dynamic, its ability to work through complex problems, and the quality of its solutions.”. Thank You for this article. – Padma