Agility is a mindset and can often not be described that easily. While I have often discussed the manager’s own character for authentic leadership in many other articles, in this article I would like to give some more practical tips that can be used in everyday life. To do this, I use the metaphor of a gardener so that you can understand agile leadership more easily.

What does a gardener have to do with agility?

Grass doesn’t grow faster if you pull on it!

(Proverb from Zambia)

When I came into my first disciplinary leadership role, after a while an employee said to me: “I find it exciting that you almost never get involved in day-to-day business, but rather try to offer your people a good environment and create a stage ! ” That day I had an exciting conversation with the employee and I told him that “grass doesn’t grow faster if you pull on it!”.

When I signed the new employment contract in 2019, I still had 3 months before I could start. During this time I set up a small indoor laundry house and set up an IT infrastructure with a Raspberry PI and some sensors, etc. My goal was not to take care of the plants directly, but to use technology to give them a good place to grow. My job is to check the technology and framework conditions on a daily basis and not lose “human” contact with the plants. I find this task really exciting and I reflected on parallels to agile leadership with myself on a daily basis.

After I created an optimal environment with light, heat and water, for example, I got into trouble with mold and fungus gnats. So I counteracted this with yellow stickers and special sand to create the environment for good growth.

My greenhouse provides a platform for plants and is heated, watered and lit by technology. I just make sure that everything still works.

What can agile managers learn from gardeners?

The task of management is no longer to use standardized human work material profitably, but to create and maintain an ecosystem like a gardener in which people can develop their individual potential and use it for the purpose of the organization.

Dr. Marcus Raitner

Now the first question would be: What are the parallels to agile leadership? My current findings are as follows:

  • Employees don’t grow faster if you pull / apply pressure!
  • Employees appreciate a stage and then really step on the gas!
  • As a manager, you take a back seat. The less I am needed, the better I do my job.
  • As a department head, I don’t have to worry about day-to-day business, but rather improve the general conditions of the department
  • Micromanagement demotivates and quickly destroys self-organization

As a gardener, I know that I cannot grow plants myself. I can only create and maintain an environment / framework in which my plants grow well. Specifically: like a gardener, as a manager I want to offer employees a good environment. So I didn’t start with the fact that I didn’t go straight into day-to-day business and still sometimes don’t know what certain project managers really do in detail. I made sure that clean processes and framework conditions were in place. Examples are:

  • Introduction of a task tracking tool
  • Introduction of a process for billing project expenses
  • Building the team visions and delimiting my three teams
  • Build a horizontal career system
  • Establishing controlling without checking the employees
  • Interfaces to other departments

You notice that all of this contributes to improving the framework conditions. An increase in the framework conditions also helps to become faster, more agile and more flexible. I still have a lot to do and a lot of ideas that I will gradually implement. I am currently getting very good feedback and think that this is a good implementation of agile leadership. What do you think of the comparison with a gardener?

The agile manager could also be a gardener, who offers the employees a great stage to develop.

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Tip: Read my book: SMEs in digital change at Springer Gabler or book me for a talk .

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I blog about the influence of digitalization on our working world. For this purpose, I provide content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday professional life. I am an executive in an SME and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the Chair of IT Management.

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