Agility is a mindset and often cannot be described so easily. While In many other articles I have often referred to the character of a manager for authentic leadership, 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 when you pull on it!

(Proverb from Zambia)

When I was new to my first disciplinary leadership role, after a while a member of staff said to me, “I find it exciting that you almost never get involved in day-to-day business, but try to provide your people with 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 when you pull on it!”.

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

For example, after creating an optimal environment with light, warmth and water, I got into trouble with mold and mourning mosquitoes. So I counteracted with yellow stickers and special sand to shape the environment for good growth.

My greenhouse provides a platform for plants and is heated, irrigated and exposed by technology. I’m just making sure everything is still working.

What can agile managers learn from gardeners?

The task of leadership is no longer to use standardized human labour 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 with agile leadership? My current findings are as follows:

  • Employees don’t grow faster when you pull/pressure on them!
  • Employees appreciate a stage and then really throttle!
  • As a manager, you take a back seat. The less you need me, the better I do my job.
  • As head of department, I do not have to take care of the day-to-day business, but to improve the general conditions of the department
  • Micromanagement demotivates and quickly breaks self-organization

As a gardener, I know that I can’t produce plants myself. I can only create and maintain an environment/framework in which my plants grow well. Concretely: Like a gardener, I want to offer employees a good environment as a manager. So I didn’t start with the fact that I didn’t go directly into the day-to-day business and sometimes I still don’t know what certain project managers are really doing in detail. I have taken care to ensure that clean processes and framework conditions are ready. Examples are:

  • Introducing a task tracking tool
  • Introducing a process for billing project expenses
  • Building the team visions and demarcation of my three teams
  • Building a horizontal career system
  • Structure of controlling without controlling the employees
  • Interfaces to other departments

You will see that all this contributes to increasing the framework conditions. Increasing the general conditions also helps to become faster, more agile and more flexible. I still have a lot of work to do and a lot of ideas that I am gradually implementing. I am currently getting very good feedback and I 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 transformation at Springer Gabler orbook me for a lecture.

Genderhinweis: Ich habe zur leichteren Lesbarkeit die männliche Form verwendet. Sofern keine explizite Unterscheidung getroffen wird, sind daher stets sowohl Frauen, Diverse als auch Männer sowie Menschen jeder Herkunft und Nation gemeint. Lesen Sie mehr dazu.

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I blog about the impact of digitalization on our working environment. For this purpose, I present content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday work. I am a manager in an SME myself and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the chair of IT Management.

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