Agile Leadership: The Best Course To Plot For A Changing Marketplace

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As seen on Forbes.com

Business leaders need a system that can carry ideas through change. Change is a definite, but progress is not. Companies need an agile framework and empowering leadership style.

The ship-sailing era of exploration from 1400 to 1600 was a time when the globe got mapped, and ships embarked for faraway lands promising riches. It was the Age of Discovery! Between the latitude and longitude lines, mapmakers often drew monsters, dragons, serpents, giant scorpions, enormous elephant fish and saber-toothed lion-headed creatures. 

These figures had some basis in confidence and some basis in fear. But they really were a combination of fact and fiction, known and unknown. They were a way of dealing with fear by saying, “Scary things may lie ahead, but follow these lines, and — beast or no beast — you will safely arrive at your destination.”

Fraught with challenges and difficulties, heading into unknown waters and conditions can go from calm to chaotic very quickly. The need to shift course can arise without warning, like in today’s high-tech marketplace where demands seem to change monthly, if not daily, and where the best-laid plans on Friday often face the tsunami of Monday’s reality. 

The Age of Discovery led to The Enlightenment, which in turn, led to the Industrial Revolution. And that brings us to where we are now: the Information Age. With artificial intelligence and machine learning governing our lives, it’s a time of rapid change. Businesses need to stay the course when necessary, yet pivot and quickly shift at a moment’s notice to embrace change or risk sacrificing productivity for chaos.

Because of these conditions, planning needs to be flexible. According to Alessandro Di Fiore, agile planning is a framework for dealing with a future that will be different, and it provides the ability to handle frequent and dynamic changes.

Good captains trust their first mates to read the horizon and ensure the crew knows the ropes. Crews lose faith if not confident the course is true. If the captain and first mates are too controlling, the crew’s confidence begins to falter; fear as a fixed navigational point is no true course.

One of the tenets of agility is that teams autonomously decide their courses, so they’re ready to tack the ship at any moment. They are able to adjust as necessary because they have a trusty ship (company), good map (priorities) and supportive captain (CEO and manager).

Having worked in software development for more than 35 years and spoken about a variety of agile topics, I’ve realized that companies fail because they don’t respond properly to change. They miss opportunities in the dynamic and changing marketplace.

Business shipwrecks like Blockbuster and Kodak are corporate specters, companies crashed on the rocks of rigidity and missed opportunities. Then there’s Microsoft, which has risen like The Flying Dutchman and has become one of the mightiest crafts to chart a true course. These businesses are examples of companies that navigated through rapid sea changes. Two companies sank, but one remained to excel in the global marketplace.

Microsoft

Amazon currently leads the business world and has dominated cloud computing, but Microsoft has established itself as a formidable competitor. When Satya Nadella became Microsoft’s CEO in 2014, he realigned the company’s mission toward cloud services. Microsoft had been relying on its Windows operating system until Nedella changed the culture — no more on-premise servers, the Office suite is now software as a service.

Today, Microsoft is expanding into three segments: intelligent cloud services, productivity services, and personal computing and gaming. Microsoft is ready to navigate toward the “hybrid cloud,” which gives enterprises one set of tools to manage on-premise and cloud services.

The key to Nadella’s success is his collaborative and supportive style of leadership. Teams inside Microsoft share a vision and work collaboratively toward achieving unified goals. He listens intently, and every opinion is important, and every perspective valued.

Blockbuster

By contrast, Blockbuster went bankrupt in 2010. Today, Netflix is worth 10 times Blockbuster’s peak value. By foregoing retail stores and late fees, Netflix allowed its customers to watch videos for as long as they wanted.

Additionally, Netflix is now a leader in content creation. The company revolutionized the industry with shows like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black. Netflix pivoted to embrace change, took over Blockbuster’s niche market and sailed away with a tremendous marketplace impact.

Kodak

Kodak’s business was in selling film. Then, cameras went digital and later merged with cell phones. The consumer base went from printing pictures and sticking them to pages in a ringed binder to receiving instant gratification from online viewers. The company filed for bankruptcy protection in 2012, but ironically the first prototype of a digital camera was created in 1975 by a Kodak engineer.

When cameras and cell phones merged, consumers posted pictures, and it was clear that Kodak’s sails were not properly trimmed. The captain’s course was too rigid and couldn’t adjust to a crew member’s innovation. Their failure, says Scott D. Anthony, was an inability to recognize and embrace the change. “Kodak created a digital camera, invested in the technology, and even understood that photos would be shared online. Where they failed was in realizing that online photo sharing was the new business, not a way to expand the printing business.”

Conclusion

Organizations know how to develop products that deliver value. However, if you talk to their leaders, they often say they’d love to learn how their company could do a better job of delivering what their customers actually want. This is why agile has gained so much popularity.

Business leaders need a system that can carry ideas through change. Change is a definite, but progress is not. Companies need an agile framework and empowering leadership style.

Don’t become rigid in a business course or hypnotized by siren songs. Rather, embrace change and realize that sometimes the trade winds are spotted by the crew and not the first mate. By doing this, you will stay relevant in an agile way.

Topics: LeadershipSoftware DevelopmentAgile

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