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Lead the organization by Example through Lean-Agile Leadership

“What is the role of Leadership” is one of the key questions to be answered in an Agile or Scaled Agile transformation. Though there are leaders who are very involved in the transformation journey, a typical anti-pattern that I noticed during my transformation journey with the majority of the Leaders are

  1. Leaders are not involved in the transformation journey; it is assumed that they are not required to drive it because it is more process transformation
  2. Leaders bless the transformation, and the teams are expected to be agile without them getting involved
  3. Leaders review the agile transformation (when time permits) and provide feedback based on their experience (which is typically waterfall)
  4. Leaders, who already have their own preconceived notion about Scaling Agility and block the transformation on and off with their notion (without getting involved and without understanding the transformation journey)

All the above behaviors of the Leadership team fail the transformation because the foundation of transformation is Leadership.

Let me slightly switch the context for setting the expectations on Leader’s role. 

Leaders are not expected to just commit to productivity & quality, but they are expected to own them and drive from the front. They must know what it is that they must do. This is the critical responsibility, and this should not be delegated.”. 

W. Edwards Deming  

What is Lean-Agile Leadership?

If the above context is not Lean-Agile Leadership, then what is it?
The scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) has 7 core competencies, one of the key core competencies is “Lean-Agile Leadership”. This competency enables Business Agility in the organization through 

  • Leadership driving excellence in operations
  • Bringing change to an organization to empower individuals to reach their potential at the highest level

3 dimensions Lean and Agile Leadership Competency

There are 3 dimensions to achieving this competency.

  • Leading by Example
  • Mindset and Principles
  • Leading the change

In this article, let’s look at deep on how a leader can drive the organization by “Leading by example”.

Leading by Example: 

Leading by example is the first dimension of Lean-Agile Leadership. This dimension is key to building the organization culturally lean and agile. Let’s go deep into the components of this dimension.

  1. Build Generative culture

A key responsibility of a Lean-Agile Leader is to build a Generative culture in the organization. Most organizations have a traditional, pathological culture. Here are the key differences between traditional pathological culture and the Generative Culture, as per Westrum’s organizational culture.

Pathological CultureGenerative Culture
Cooperation is low between Leaders and teams. They are more silo-ed, and decisions are not aligned with the organizationCooperation between Leaders and teams is high. Decisions are commonly aligned.
This drives a blame culture. Failure always leads to blame on someone. Scapegoat culture is very visible.Failure is considered an opportunity to learn. Learn from failures and constantly improve. Failures are not repeated because they are learned and corrected in the future. There is no fear of failure in the teams. 
Responsibilities stay with few people in the organization.Responsibilities are shared across. Everyone in the organization feels ownership in achieving the goal.
There is no focus on Innovation. It is believed that only few can innovate, and others are not ready for innovation.Innovation is part of the organization, and part of everyone’s life. Everyone is encouraged and enabled to innovate. Time and space are provided for everyone to innovate regularly. Innovation accounting is maintained.
Low on collaboration – everyone drives themselves inside the box. Collaboration between teams and leaders is minimal in the organization.Collaboration is high. This enables them to be much more aligned and results in execution excellence.

If the organization is in a “Pathological” culture, the Leader should drive it towards Generative culture. To achieve this, the Leader should take the following steps.

  1. Authentic Leadership

Lean-Agile Leaders have the highest level of authenticity. Self-interested leaders drive similar behavior and culture for the organization. 

Here are a few examples of Authentic Leadership:

Be HonestBeing honest to themselves and others. Walk the talk, do what you talk
Have IntegrityHaving high integrity means doing what is required even when others don’t notice Doing right to the organization and its growth
Be TransparentBe transparent with the organization, not selectively sharing information for the self-benefit
Be true to your beliefsBeing true to their beliefs Constantly communicate and inspire the organization through their beliefs. Have a never-give-up attitude to yourself and the organization
Be professionalBeing professional at all moments, keeping personal emotions and relations aside
  1. Enable Life-long Learning in the organization

Leaders enable life-long learning in the organization. There is a joke about learning culture. This is how the conversation goes between 2 leaders

Leader 1: What if we train all our employees, enable them to handle complex problems AND then they leave?
Leader 2: What if they don’t know how to handle complex problems AND they don’t leave?

It’s very clear that enabling continuous learning is key to an organization’s success. This is the responsibility of Lean-Agile Leaders.

This is applied not only to the teams but also to the Leadership team. It’s key for leaders to engage in the ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge through self-regulation, self-awareness, and social skills. 

  1. Decentralize decision-making

Software is a “Knowledge Work”. The definition of knowledge work is – “I know more about the work I do than my manager. My team knows more about the work they do than me”. 

With this context, as a Leader, is it not common sense to enable them to take decisions by themselves? Yes, absolutely. It is key to decentralize decisions where applicable.

In my consulting, I have done this exercise many times and every time I noticed that for no big reason, the decisions were centralized. This keeps the leaders too busy, and the team demotivated. Whenever we did this exercise to decentralize, it was always a pleasure because both parties were happy at the end.

Note: This doesn’t mean that all the decisions have to be decentralized. It is key to identify the decision that is not required to be centralized and decentralize all of them.

With a pathological culture, decisions are centralized and that impacts the teams in a long run.

  1. Grow others in the organization

The leader provides guidance to the rest of the organization on the personal, professional, and technical sides. Continuously enable them to take additional responsibility that drives the motivation of the individuals and brings overall growth to the organization.


  • To lead the organization with a Lean-Agile mindset, it is key that the leadership has Lean-Agile Leadership competency.
  • Leading by example is key to demonstrating the leadership culture.

To learn about this competency, you can attend our “Leading SAFe” workshop or “Implementing SAFe with SAFe Program Consultant (SPC)” workshop.