Teresa Ramos's picture Submitted by Teresa Ramos March 2, 2023 - 8:13pm

How To Coach Agile Leaders: Lessons from 10 Years as Scrum Master

You may have heard of the term "Agile" being used a lot in business lately. It seems like everything, and everybody needs to be “agile.” If you're not “agile,” you're nobody!

But what does “agile” mean? What does it mean to be an agile leader? And what do we, as coaches, need to pay attention to when coaching agile leaders?

Agile and agility come from agile methodologies. So, let's start with a brief history:

Back in 2000, the digital revolution had already created a world of high volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA). The pace of change was so fast and unpredictable that traditional ways of working were not effective anymore. In this environment, a group of 17 software developers became frustrated with the traditional approach to work; which was often slow, cumbersome, and inflexible. They gathered to discuss new ways of working to stay ahead in the new digital world. 

As a result, they developed the “agile thinking,” captured in the famous “Agile Manifesto, (Beck et al., 2001) based on principles of adaptability, flexibility, and collaboration. Agile thinking is not only about speed. It is also about simplifying, being flexible, and adapting quickly to change. It materializes in a set of methodologies that emphasize collaboration, communication, flexibility, and continuous improvement. 

The main idea is that software development is an iterative process. Teams use short cycles of development and feedback to quickly identify and address problems. This allows them to quickly adapt to changing customer needs and respond to feedback. Additionally, agile methodologies place an emphasis on collaboration, enabling teams to quickly identify, and address problems before they become too large to handle.

It has several benefits. First, it allows teams to adjust to challenges and changes as they occur and address them at early stages. Second, it increases performance and customer satisfaction. Third, it enables customers to see tangible results frequently.
Agile thinking can be applied to any area of business. As a result, agile methodologies have become increasingly popular with corporations, boards, executives, and leaders in all industries.


Agile is a mindset, a way of thinking that originated in the software development world to adapt to the rapidly changing and highly uncertain environment created by the digital revolution. The main ideas at the heart of agile thinking are:

  1. Work in short iterations that provide teams the necessary flexibility to quickly react and adapt to change.
  2. Emphasis on collaboration and communication to quickly identify and address problems before they become too large to handle.

The Agile Leader

Agile leadership is a style of leadership that emphasizes the ability to rapidly adapt to changes and unexpected challenges. Agile leaders are adaptive, open-minded, and able to work in a team. They are willing to experiment, take risks, and be open to feedback. They can listen well, build trust, and collaborate. Are able to quickly pivot and make decisions in the face of uncertainty. Agile leaders are often described as being "flexible," "adaptable," and "responsive.”

Some key characteristics that define an agile leader are:

Flexible Vision: An agile leader has a clear vision for what they want to achieve and can articulate it and inspire others to buy into it. This vision is firm enough to make decisions and maintain focus when things get tough and, at the same time, flexible enough to adapt as circumstances change.

Radical Collaboration: An agile leader knows they cannot have all the information and all the answers. They are strong communicators, build trust, work effectively with others towards common goals, and compromise when necessary, and are open to input and feedback. 

Extreme Agility: In today's ever-changing world, the most successful leaders are comfortable with change and uncertainty and can adapt and change course when necessary.  They are flexible in their approach, learn from mistakes, and constantly look for feedback and ways to improve.

The Challenges of Agile Leadership

The business world is increasingly embracing agile approaches for the many advantages they offer. However, there are also challenges to agile leadership.

The main challenges are related to identity and value add. 

Identity: More traditional leaders who have invested years and energy refining a leadership style based on authority and rank may experience difficulties exploring an agile leadership style.  Agile leadership is radically different to the more authoritarian styles that have taken them to the top, and letting go of the old paradigms may prove challenging.

Value add: Senior leaders may equate adding value with having all the information, providing all the answers, and making all the decisions. They may experience difficulties when changing to an agile style and becoming facilitators who enable teams to gather information, provide answers, and make decisions. 

The shift from traditional to agile leadership can seem intimidating, but with a better understanding of both paradigms, senior leaders can start making the transition and see the benefits in their teams.

What it means for us, coaches

Some of the areas to consider when coaching an agile leader are:

  1. Understand agile mindset: An agile leader needs a different mindset than what is used in more traditional leadership frameworks. Even for non-directive coaches, it helps to understand the agile mindset and philosophy to be able to better support leaders.
  2. Create new leadership identity: Agile leadership is radically different from more traditional leadership. Leaders may need additional support in helping them create a new identity and a new understanding of how they can add value.
  3. Develop a growth mindset: Agile thinking and leadership focus on feedback, communication, and learning. Shifting from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset is vital to be able to embrace change, be open to feedback, and take it as an opportunity for growth.


Coaching an agile leader is about the leader's mindset and agility as much as it is about the coach's.  

To coach agile leaders successfully, coaches can benefit from understanding agile thinking, developing an agile mindset, and being able to embody the principles of agility, flexibility, and adaptability in their own approach.

If you can do that, you will be well on your way to helping leaders transform into agile leaders who can successfully navigate our rapidly changing world.


Beck, K., Beedle, M., van Bennekum, A., Cockburn, A., Cunningham, W., Fowler, M., Greenning, J., Highsmith, J., Hunt, A., Jeffries, R., Kern, J., Marick, B., Martin, R. C., Mellor, S., Schwaber, K., Sutherland, J., & Thomas, D. (2001, February). Agile Manifesto. Manifesto for Agile Software Development. Retrieved January 29, 2023, from https://agilemanifesto.org/iso/en/manifesto.html


Thank you Teresa - for sharing such a concise yet deep perspective on an imperative leadership trait for the decades ahead - where our VUCA world is headed toward 'VUCA-x'! In other words, both challenges AND opportunities are likely be 'x' times greater. An 'Agile' mindset and practices are indeed developable by any leader who chooses to take inspiration from our oldest teacher - 'Nature' - where everything happens in the 'Now' moment. Thank you for your encouragement for all leaders and coaches to go for it!



Thank you for your comments, Jaspal

This blog post provided a clear, concise primer on the agile approach.  It very helpful.  Thank you.

Thank you, Sarah