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The agile leader: leveraging the power of influence
Šochová Z., Pearson, Boston, MA, 2020. 368 pp.  Type: Book (978-1-366604-28-6)
Date Reviewed: May 21 2021

The author states that The agile leader allows the reader to “sample the various concepts and principles of agile leadership.” Some familiarity with Scrum and agility would be helpful beforehand. Agility basically means being willing to adapt to a world characterized by “Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity.” To succeed in such a world, organizations must be flexible. To be flexible, organizations need to change the leadership approach from command and control to agility, where everyone can be a leader. Agility is focused on “making people awesome,” on learning through experiments.

Three paradigms exist for organizations, and they each match a particular need. The first paradigm is the traditional one based on a strong leader. The second is based on knowledge, with a focus on deep analysis and a reliance on experts. The third is agile, based on teams and a dynamic network structure. One model of agile leadership is servant-leader; however, a better model is leader-leader, where the leader creates other leaders from within the organization. Transparency, especially about purpose, is the first step in being a leader-leader. In an agile organization, the leader is a catalyst. Catalysts empower people and work through teams. Three qualities of an agile leader are positivity, listening skills, and faith in autonomy.

Leaders must work within a system, that is, the relationships within the group. To be effective, the leaders must be aware of what is happening within the system; they must be willing to embrace what is happening, and to act. Embracing a system when a disagreement emerges is important because it is hard to know who is right--usually everyone is right, but only partially. Becoming a great agile leader is a journey, and a leader should self-assess her/his competencies and listen to feedback. The core competencies of an agile leader are being able to create a vision, to motivate, to use feedback, and to implement change. The supporting competencies are decision-making, collaboration, facilitation, and coaching. The book has a helpful map showing these competencies, with the change competencies divided into changing oneself, changing other individuals, and changing the system.

The discussion on creating a vision seems especially useful: a “high dream” is what you would like an organization to become; a “low dream” is what you expect if things go wrong. A process for building a vision is presented.

More abstract than competencies are meta-skills; three of particular importance are curiosity, trust, and courage. An agile organization is built from the inside out, by changing the culture. Changing a culture requires patience--hints are given on how; success comes from focusing on relationships. The agile approach can be effective in dealing with an entire organization, including the Board of Directors and chief executive officer (CEO).

A separate chapter focuses on creating agile human resources (HR) and finance departments, including ideas on salary. The penultimate chapter, “Tools and Practices,” is based on the author’s experience. The use of systems thinking is described. The final summary concludes with a list of websites that take one further on the journey to becoming an agile leader.

The text is enlivened by clever sketches and cartoons. Many exercises and places to assess one’s organization are included, as are vignettes of people’s experiences with agility. The book is useful because it includes a great many relevant ideas in an encouraging, upbeat manner. Certainly intended for a practitioner.

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Reviewer:  B. Hazeltine Review #: CR147270 (2109-0233)
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