Being the Agile Boss

Leading through radical uncertainty means helping your team and your network create the future with you.

Reading Time: 12 min 



An MIT SMR initiative exploring how technology is reshaping the practice of management.
More in this series
Permissions and PDF

Image courtesy of Sam Chivers/

Leading in late 2020 means carving a new path through an epic disruption precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has spawned health, economic, and social crises that have rendered the best-laid plans useless. With no road map for the marathon ahead, navigating through these times is a test of agility. Together, you and your organization will have to experiment, execute, and learn from successes and failures to invent your organization’s future.

Agile leadership matters now more than ever — it is about leveraging, not reacting to, the turbulence around you. How can you empower your team to solve problems nimbly and resourcefully when circumstances are in flux and reliable data is elusive? How can you create the conditions for your organization to survive? How do you create new ways of engaging with key stakeholders when they are all under pressure and resources are scarce? And how do you cultivate your capacity to cope with the imponderables that lie ahead?

Through three decades of research, consulting, and teaching, I have found that there are three imperatives of great leadership: managing your team — creating a high-performing “we” out of all the “I’s” over whom you have formal authority; managing your network — building partnerships with key stakeholders both inside and outside your organization; and managing yourself — using yourself as an instrument to get things done. When your ambition is to prepare your organization for the “next normal,” neglecting even one of these responsibilities jeopardizes the capacity of your organization to act, learn, pivot, and forge ahead.

Managing Your Team: Focus on Purpose and Learning

Your primary role as an agile leader is to create an environment that empowers everyone to be an innovative problem-solver. Doing so requires that you champion a shared sense of purpose and build a capacity for rapid learning.

Innovation is hard work. It thrives on diversity and conflict. It takes candor to identify and mitigate risk, and it takes courage to accept the inevitable missteps and pivots that occur along the way. To meet those challenges with endurance, your people need to believe that they can make a meaningful contribution to a cause they care about.



An MIT SMR initiative exploring how technology is reshaping the practice of management.
More in this series

Reprint #:


More Like This

Add a comment

You must to post a comment.

First time here? Sign up for a free account: Comment on articles and get access to many more articles.

Comments (2)
jyotsna koorapati
In times of turbulent times and political uncertainty, it becomes necessary to respond with agility and preparedness.  

As you mentioned it is not just looking after your immediate family or formal team but acting as a collective ‘we’ to lookout for customers, team, community. This approach delivers wider coverage and performance. A thing to note is that 
immediate bosses might see it not in their jurisdiction. So, it is up to executive management/boards to advise, support and cover this individual category. This aligns to their needs, goals and welfare.

In times like this, agility solves immediate hot spot problems. But (imho) longer term issues have to be planned carefully to avoid structural breakdown eg. critical infrastructure layout, maybe next health crisis.

We all seem to be going through the ‘chaotic and unprecedented future together’ and co-creating the next normal. All sorts of questions and ideas are to taken into consideration. Does the internet need further regulation or Facebook needs geographical gateways. Or does humankind want to speed it’s way to outer space. Let’s slow some.
Clement GAVI
'Agile leadership matters now more than ever — it is about leveraging, not reacting to, the turbulence around you.'

What if 'the turbulence around you' means human suffering? Aren't we in a world where millions must flee to become refugees or so called internally displaced? 
Our fellow human beings called Rohingya made stateless after having been chased out from Burma have spent months on the sea in order to reach an Indonesia beach

The idea of 'Nourishing Africa' in the article doesn't reflect a permanent problem that inspired similar ideas such 'Feed Africa' etc that exist prior to Covid_19?

There are turbulence around us which say a world, our world. A world in which life has become suffering for millions. It might be good to let our hearts be crushed by the turbulence which are the cries of those who are suffering so we may come to the conclusion that all these aren't fate and that the leaders can shape a world without men's made turbulence.