This is the last in a series detailing six leadership lessons drawn from Agile by a recovering conventional manager – me!

Being a learner – inspecting and adapting

The Agile founders built into all their processes a regular pattern of retrospectives – a disciplined practice of looking carefully at their work and their processes and sensing how to improve. Crucially, this practice starts at the team level.  Instead of being judged from above, the team assesses itself on its performance and comes up with its own ideas for improvement. This discipline is often called “Inspect and Adapt.” it happens regularly in sprints or Agile increments of work.  It builds self-reflection, healthy self-criticism and continuing learning and change into the organisation at every level. While formal leaders can contribute, of course, it is not a top-down evaluation exercise and leads to increased self-responsibility and a learner culture at all levels.

Bringing a big vision to life by carving it up into small chunks of work

Because Agile practice encourages work to be done in small increments, with constant customer feedback, reflection and change, big visions get built in small steps.  This takes a lot of risk out of the process, and does not require leaders to commit to a full plan early on.

Not only does this way reduce risk, but it also reduces strain on the organisation.  Instead of huge leaps, the organisations can change in small increments, rapidly but smoothly.  There is less sense of straining for impossible, unrealistic or invalid goals, and more a sense of dancing with reality. All the while we maintain a connection to a vision of the future — a connection held lightly, creatively and flexibly.

Taken together, these lessons invite me toward a much more humane, humble, curious, dynamic and creative vision of leadership.  I’m reminded of my friend and teacher Olaf Lewitz’s idea of “Surprisability”: we create spaces where people can do their best creative work, surprising themselves with what they can do, and being surprised by the beauty and uniqueness of their diverse colleagues. We make things and present them to the world, and are prepared to be surprised both by their successes and by learning how our creations might change or evolve to improve. With our intended outcomes in mind, we set a course to the best of our ability, but stay fleet and flexible – Agile! – fully prepared to be surprised, and to learn from and capitalise on those surprises. We hold ourselves and our colleagues gently, caring for ourselves and others as we create sustainable, welcoming and creative workplaces. And in doing all this, we bring great things to life in the world, little step by little step, delivering something new and beautiful every day.

This post also published on LinkedIn at