Agile leadership and its relevance to Kenya's economic take-off

Workers packaging mango juice at a factory in Elgeyo Marakwet County. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

According to scholars such as Nagel and Dove, the paradigm of “agile” which is understood as the competence of companies to live in the global world full of threats, was first presented in 1991 by Lehigh University in an academic paper.

 Since then, “agility” has increasingly become a trend word. In recent years, more and more organisations are trying to become “agile” and implement agile corporate structures.

In my view, agility refers not only to the processes and structures that an organisation adopts, but also the way leadership is designed. Agile leadership is best explained as a style of leadership that embraces and supports agile principles and practices in an organisation. It strives to remove roadblocks to success so that employees can be more effective and productive. Additionally, agile leadership recognises the need for flexibility, adaptability and collaboration in a rapidly changing business environment.

In a world full of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, it calls on leaders to embrace agility. Some of the attributes of agile leadership comprise aspects such as servant leadership, whereupon the leaders adopt a mindset, focusing on supporting and enabling their teams. The other aspect is adaptive planning, whereby the leaders embrace iterative and incremental planning. Another aspect is cross-functional collaboration, whereby the leaders promote collaboration across different roles and functions, breaking down silos. 

There is the aspect of empowering teams, whereupon the leaders trust and empower their teams to self-organise, make decisions and take responsibility for their work. They provide support, resources and guidance while encouraging autonomy and creativity. Additionally, we also have the aspect of embracing change and innovation. This aspect is where the leaders encourage a culture of learning, experimentation and innovation. They are open to change and adapt quickly to new information or market conditions.

Further, there is the aspect of continuous improvement, whereby the leaders emphasise continuous learning and improvement. They facilitate feedback loops, encourage retrospectives and promote a culture of reflection and adaptation. In addition, there is also the aspect of collaborative decision-making, where leaders involve the team in decision-making processes, seeking input and diverse perspectives.

Finally, one of the other aspects of agile leadership is in value delivery and customer focus, whereupon the leaders prioritise delivering value to customers. They align the team’s efforts with customer needs, gather feedback and ensure that the work aligns with the organisation’s strategic goals.

In the light of the above, it is clear that there are immense benefits derived from adopting agile leadership be it at the corporate or country level. However, creating an agile culture is an ongoing journey that requires commitment, adaptability and continuous improvement. It involves fostering a collaborative, customer-centric and learning-oriented environment where agile principles and practices are embraced at all levels of the organisation.

-Dr Muriithi is the Executive Director/CEO Kenya Institute of Management