Why Agile Marketing Without Agile Leadership Is Doomed to Fail

Here at AgileSherpas, we’ve seen dozens of organizations go through various Agile transitions and transformations. Time and time again, Agile leadership has proven itself to be one of the most critical factors for success.

That said, we’re also passionate Agile marketers ourselves! Even established Agile teams require proactive Agile leaders in order to function effectively. 

In other words, any stage of Agile marketing without Agile leadership is not likely to end well. Below, we explain why and what you can do to unlock the power of Agile leadership for your marketing teams.

What Is Agile Leadership?

Characteristics of Agile Marketing Leaders

Let’s start by really understanding what Agile leadership is, because you’d be surprised how easy it is to misunderstand. Agile leadership is simply applying Agile principles towards a leadership role. It sounds simple, but what does that mean in practice?

First and foremost, Agile leadership requires a deep understanding of Agile marketing principles. Without that understanding, leaders are far more likely to drift into “fake-Agile,” where they wrongly believe they are following Agile principles. As one might expect, this usually results in teams frustrated that they’re not getting the benefits of Agile despite ostensibly doing what they’re supposed to.

In a more general sense, Agile marketing requires some level of give and take between teams and leadership, with those leaders providing guidance on what the team’s priorities should be, while the team decides how to achieve those priorities. Non-Agile leaders may have a hard time fulfilling this more-limited role if they’re used to telling marketing teams how they should achieve broader goals.

Agile leaders also need to be more accepting of failure as a part of a culture that values and creates safe spaces for experimentation and continuous improvement. Overall, good Agile leaders should actively support the Agile development of their marketing teams. But what kind of leadership styles are best for supporting this mission?

What Leadership Styles Are Suitable for an Agile Environment?

The answer is “it depends.” The emphasis Agile marketing places on adaptability translates into how leaders should behave as well. For example, leaders should be democratic in getting input from their teams, but must also set the pace of their work, be a visionary in how they apply Agile principles, etc.

What Agile leaders should not do is take a single style of leadership and focus entirely on it. Adaptability is key!

Why Is Agile Leadership so Important?

A lack of support from management or executives is the third-greatest barrier to Agile adoption

The latest State of Agile Marketing Report (SOAM) found that 17% of teams reported that a lack of support from management or executives is the most significant barrier preventing them from implementing a fully-Agile approach. Even when teams did manage to transition to Agile, 15% felt their leaders provided them with too much information, further hampering the Agile process.

One thing is clear, a decent portion of already-Agile marketers have issues with their Agile leadership.

That’s not to mention the importance of Agile leadership for transitions and transformations. There, a lack of leadership understanding and support almost guarantees failure. But understanding exactly why requires an even deeper dive into how Agile leadership contributes to better Agile marketing.

Agile Is the Future of Marketing

Let’s start with the biggest and most significant advantage. As discussed, Agile leadership is critical for successful Agile marketing. And considering the rapidly growing popularity and importance of Agile in marketing, that leadership is also becoming increasingly vital.

The aforementioned State of Agile Marketing Report (SOAM) found that 41% of marketers are already using Agile, with more than half planning to implement it. Interestingly though, a quarter stated that a lack of support from leadership was one of – if not the greatest – reasons for not adopting Agile.

With the pace of change in business only increasing, the efficiency, flexibility, and innovation that Agile marketing brings is only set to become more crucial. To make a long story short, if your marketing is going to remain competitive over the long term, adopting Agile is essential. 

Agile Transitions Take Time and Resources

We frequently get asked how long an Agile marketing transformation typically takes, and, in our experience, 12-18 months is typical. Even if the transition doesn’t take too long, that’s a lot of time for leadership to lose interest and even pull the plug, leaving marketing teams stuck mid-transition and unable to access the full benefits of Agile.

These transitions and transformations also require resources for training and coaching. A transition is unlikely to succeed without that kind of education and support. Bottom line: when Agile transitions and transformations are happening, support from the top is absolutely essential.

Non-Agile Leaders Can Create a Disconnect

Non-Agile Leaders Can Create a Disconnect

From our definition and discussion of Agile leadership above, it should be clear that not having it can easily create a dangerous disconnect between marketing teams and their leaders. When leaders don’t understand how their teams operate or why they function the way they do, the door is open for conflict.

For example, a non-Agile leader may expect their team to handle lots of unplanned work. However, Agile marketing teams are designed to push back against unplanned work to ensure they can remain focused on delivering value through work in progress. A non-Agile leader may also expect to have more direct control over how exactly their teams accomplish goals.

Those are just a few examples, but the stark differences between traditional and Agile leadership create myriad opportunities for conflict.

Agile Leaders Are Necessary to Unlock Key Agile Benefits

Avoiding disconnects and conflict is great, but, as noted, actually unlocking the full benefits of Agile marketing also requires the right leadership. 

For example, the Sixth Annual State of Agile Marketing Report (SOAM) found that Agile teams much prefer working with other Agile teams (over non-Agile teams). And good Agile leadership is one of the best ways to advocate for a greater use of Agile throughout the organization, enabling more teams to unlock its benefits and collaborate more effectively.

Agile methods also offer great ways to improve alignment between various levels of an organization. Systems like Portfolio Kanban offer a fantastic way to directly tie marketing activities to broader organizational goals. But systems like this require leadership involvement that may prove difficult if they are unfamiliar with the Agile principles behind them.

How Can You Unlock Agile Leadership

Interested in becoming a better Agile marketing leader? We’ve put together a tailored course to help you do just that. Our Agile Marketing Leadership (ICP-LEA) Course can be taken on your own or in a private cohort. It can also be combined with private training to help you apply its lessons towards your unique challenges. It has everything you need to lead your Agile marketing teams to success! 

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