What are the traits and characteristics of an agile executive?

What are the traits and characteristics of an agile executive?

Patrick Lencioni wrote a book called, ‘the ideal team player’, and it explores some ingredients of a great agile executive that are worth looking at.

  1. Humility
  2. Hungry for success
  3. People smart

I think these are essential ingredients in the success of an agile executive.

Open to Learning

What I really look for is an individual who is open to learning, someone who accepts that the playing field is changing, real-time, and is curious about what might be needed to succeed in that environment.

Often, it requires someone to unlearn everything that has brought them to success, and be open to new ideas, concepts, and models that will enable them to succeed in the complex environment.

So, a willingness to learn and discover better ways of achieving outcomes and being open to changing their mind based on data, feedback, and evidence.


A fixed mindset presumes that the world we live in has fixed answers, a black and white environment where all the answers are neatly slotted into their relevant categories. A growth mindset understands that the world has evolved a great deal and what worked 20 years ago is not certain to work today.

An understanding of complexity where we can’t know all the answers upfront, and where we need to actively collaborate with others to learn and discover the best way forward.

An understanding that we can, at best, develop a hypothesis and create an experiment to validate that hypothesis, but we can’t know the answers upfront.

So, curiosity really matters.

The willingness to set aside ego and take a deep interest in what we could explore, discover, and cocreate together.


A great agile executive is also someone who takes the responsibility of team development seriously. Someone who plays an active role in shaping the culture of an organization, but also in protecting it.

To be a guardian.

Someone who understands that in the knowledge and information age, people are invaluable, and we need to create environments where they can thrive and protect against traditional behaviours and policies that might corrupt the organizational culture.

Politically savvy.

Agile speaks about the need to create autonomous, self-managing teams that are empowered to make decisions. That said, we also need to acknowledge that many of the things that prevent teams from progressing are outside of the control and influence of the team.

They need a champion.

Someone who can navigate complexity, the political environment, and actively work to remove problems and impediments that are preventing the team from progressing.

Sometimes, those are organizational policies and administrative constraints, whilst at others it may be the need to change how the business makes decisions or funds projects. Things which require a great deal of political savvy and capability to achieve.

A great agile executive knows how to get the board interested in valuable outcomes, and shapes how agile is perceived within the organization. Shapes how the organization makes decisions, funds projects, and rewards specific outcomes.

So, the art of getting work done rather than toxic political plays.

In my opinion, these are essential ingredients for a successful, effective agile executive.

About John Coleman

John Coleman has deep experience and expertise working with executives, #leadership teams and product development teams to achieve increased #organizationalagility and create environments where creativity and collaboration produce high-performance teams.

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Agile Leadership,Executive Agility
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