#DIGITALLEARNING 7 – Agile Leadership

02. July 2018

Knowledge is power – especially when it comes to digitization. Therefore the etventure Learning Hub regularly presents methods, tools and know-how around digitization and innovation with the blog series #DIGITALLEARNING. This time it’s about agile leadership.

Behind agile methods like Scrum or Lean Startup are always people without whom their implementation does not work. What role does the human factor play, so that agility can be used to the advantage of the company? And what distinguishes an agile manager? These are the questions we want to address in our article today.

Customer needs and market conditions are changing rapidly and in some cases unpredictably, especially in the face of the digital transformation. The world in which a company operates today turns faster, becomes less predictable, much more complex and confusing. Accordingly, it is particularly important to be able to react quickly to changes and to develop products or services close to the customer. Innovation is crucial in order to survive on the market in today’s world and must be promoted within the company accordingly.

This is made possible by working agile. But especially in a bureaucratic group this does not work without agile leadership. It drives innovation within the company and ensures that advantages such as fast development cycles, increased creativity and the development of user-centered products and services are used effectively.

“Agile Leadership supports employees in reacting quickly and creatively to the changing needs of customers and markets. She’s a mindset, an attitude. It uses an open toolbox of coaching tools to improve collaboration and methods to reduce complexity”.

(Svenja Hofert, “Agiler führen”)

The management of organizations is originally based on implicit assumptions:

  • Employees are lazy and need to be monitored.
  • Money is the only motivating factor.
  • Employees are selfish and do the best for themselves and not the organization.
  • Employees do not understand complex interrelationships and are therefore not in a position to see the “big picture”.
  • Employees do not want to take responsibility – they want to be guided and closely managed.

Now we know: Employees are the biggest asset, the most important resource in the company and their talents must be promoted. In order for this to succeed, a fundamental rethinking in organizational design and interaction with one’s own employees is required.

  • Agility according to plan! Establish an agile organizational structure where it makes strategic sense and is possible, such as in research and development. Other areas such as accounting do not have to work agile.
  • Iterative decision process! Question tasks and results and make adjustments if necessary.
  • More autonomy for teams! Only in this way can they develop creative ideas and be motivated by active participation in the decision-making process.
  • Colleagues instead of managers! Working at eye level as well as early responsibility motivate the employees to grow beyond themselves.
  • Roles instead of rigid job profiles! Discover the talents of your employees. Perhaps this opens up unexpected possibilities, even if the skills discovered do not belong to the original job profile.
  • Culture of failure! In order for your employees to create innovations, you must not be afraid of failure – failure is not the opposite of success, but part of it.

Change is difficult for many companies and executives and so it is also a great challenge to make a traditional management style more agile. Implementing agile leadership holistically requires practice, especially when a different management style has established itself in the company. Once managers have recognized the need for agility in the company, they lack a framework to which they can adhere. Not only a fundamental understanding of agile methods, but above all the enabling of your own employees is decisive for success. To become more agile as a leader, you can stick to the following formula for success:

Ability + will + allowance = success


The strengths of your employees are a key factor for business success. Make sure that they are used optimally and promote the talent, knowledge and experience of your employees. Support measures can include coaching, further training, mentoring and the facilitation of research and development.


Employees must be motivated to do a good job. They should have fun at work and practice it with passion. The motivation of the employees is the task of an agile leader. Important factors here are the design of the work content, an open working environment, appreciation and the communication of a uniform mindset. These include, for example, the aforementioned error culture or the strengthening of a hands-on mentality. Motivation measures include team building, a fair bonus system, leadership at eye level and a good work-life balance.


A decisive factor, which is often neglected, is “being allowed”. Strong employees are often motivated to improve things, develop new things and create real added value for the company. However, implementation and success then fail because of “being allowed”, which must be ensured by agile leadership. For agile work with real impact, employees need freedom and the possibility of co-determination. They carry the knowledge and skills in the company and must therefore be enabled to use them. To achieve this, they need the appropriate responsibility, trust and willingness to take risks on the part of management and the establishment of agile processes.

One possible measure is the establishment of an “innovation time” – a part of the working time that employees can use for innovation separately from their everyday business. If this time is not available or is not explicitly supported by management, most employees will find it difficult to be innovative because they lack the necessary acceptance and may feel they are neglecting other tasks. If possible, the employees should be provided with space for creative work, which they can also try out here. Innovation should also be included in the target agreements of the employees. This underlines once again the importance that the management sees in this.

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Maureen stammt aus Köln und studierte International Business und Media Management. Nach einer Tätigkeit bei Daimler vertiefte sie ihr Studium im Bereich Marketing Management. Bei etventure unterstützt sie den etventure Learning Hub bei den Themen Marketing und Controlling.

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