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In a Boston Consulting Group study, senior executives were asked to rank the relative importance of eight agile enablers. “Leadership, culture, and behaviour” ranked first. When asked which enablers their organisations are best equipped to tackle, leadership, culture, and behaviour ranked second last after technology, talent and skills, governance, structure and purpose. In terms of agility, leadership, culture and behaviour are viewed as most important whereas they fall short in meeting the challenge. They furthermore established that fear of getting out of the comfort zone,  leadership team dynamics and lack of self-awareness, in that order, were the main obstacles. It is easy to talk agile but can be difficult to do and live agile. Ultimately, leadership stands and falls by what is modelled.

What started as a set of principles for software development to write and release code iteratively, has grown to the ideal of transforming enterprises to operate with the same principles: develop iteratively, release frequently, focus on the customer, and collaborate through a cross-functional team—always prioritising test-and-learn methods over detailed planning.

The challenge is to realise the ideal. You can’t just do agile – at least not to the extent that it becomes ingrained in the culture – without being agile. The shift to being more agile, for some more so than others, is challenging: How do I let go of my need to know and control, to always be right? Asking the question is a start. Becoming more honest about what we fear in letting go is a growth process leaders need to go through.  

Author: Dr Gerhard van Rensburg

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