RESEARCH REPORT

In brief

In brief

  • Every agile leader must be familiar with 5 learning journeys, some of which they will have to undertake themselves.
  • Leading an agile transformation requires different, specialized skills not needed for leading an agile business.
  • Even leaders with the best of intentions sometimes fail to see how their leadership makes or breaks transformation success.


Executives in companies undergoing transformations usually want to help. They often try to make the changes needed to become a more agile leader. They remember from their past training that they need to empower teams while striving to be less directive themselves. They know what a user story is, they have even authorized re-naming all of their project managers to scrum masters—what more is there to it? And yet transformations still fail. So, there must be more to it.

How can leaders improve the success of the transformation of their organizations— and themselves?

Go forth and transform

The leader of the agile change initiative, Lee (all names have been changed) would meet with his executive sponsor Chris monthly to provide "status reports" on the transformation. Every month Chris would review the report and ask a few good questions and if there was anything he can do to help. Then he would close the meeting with "Keep up the good work!" and "Go forth and transform!"

Lee left every meeting thinking, "He has no idea what it will actually take to transform. What can I do to further this transformation without having to first make executives like Chris understand the broader implications?"

Lee knew the executive sponsor was too busy to make the time to lead the transformation "from the front"; that’s why Lee was hired on in the first place. All of the IT executives had attended the "Agile Overview" training when their organization started its journey three years previous, so Lee didn’t think more training was the answer. When Lee talked to his peer in the Finance group about changing how initiatives were funded to allow the teams to adapt more quickly, they agreed that neither of their bosses would understand the need to change the very high-level process that they didn’t have visibility into. These were governance processes overseen by the Board! It was just too big of a problem and none of them really knew what the solution would be. Furthermore, they felt they should be taking solutions to their bosses, not problems. The teams were already empowered, weren’t they? The IT org "went agile" a few years ago, after all.

Leading an already agile organization is fundamentally different from leading a traditional organization through agile transformation.

5 learning journeys

Lee isn’t alone, and neither is Chris.

In this white paper, we offer five learning journeys that every agile leader must be familiar with and some of which they will have to undertake themselves in order to effectively lead an agile organization "from the front."

1. How to be Agile

Leaders should have a working understanding of what agile is, what business agility is, and why transformation is the means to get what they want.

2. How to Manage in Agile Environments

To achieve business agility, many management practices and business functions need to rethink their approach to managing people.

3. How to Lead in an Agile Organization

Business agility yields organizational benefits to the whole business when everyone does their part. Leaders steer and motivate.

4. How to Lead Change and Transformation

Leading an agile organization is vastly different from leading a traditional organization through agile transformation. New skills are needed.

5. How to Develop a Coaching Capability

Business agility transforms the organization. Backsliding is common. Coaching helps organizations keep and expand on hard-earned gains.

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Leadership is an action

The era of improvement being imposed only on others is long behind us. Many leaders, managers, and executives are on board with the new program where everyone leads from their place in the holistic system. In other words, leaders are not those people who bark orders from the top; we are all of us leaders, or we have the potential to be. After all, a leader is "someone who leads" and anyone can lead. These five learning journeys provide a way for traditional leaders to lead "from the front" again, steering the transformation effort and modeling the behavior they expect in others.

George Schlitz

Business Agility Practice Global Lead


Sally Bauer

Senior Manager – Business Agility Practice Development


William Rowden

Business Agility Practice Development Associate Director

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