The Agile Leader: How Personality Traits Drive Successful Transformation in Organizations

The Agile Leader: How Personality Traits Drive Successful Transformation in Organizations
Photo by Дмитрий Хрусталев-Григорьев / Unsplash

In today's rapidly changing business landscape, organizations must adapt to new challenges to remain competitive. Agile transformation, new ways of working, and digitalization are key issues that modern organizations cannot afford to ignore. Many companies are striving for transformation, but not all are approaching this development task correctly. The personality of leaders plays a significant role in the success of agile transformation processes. In this article, we'll explore the key personality traits that contribute to an agile mindset in managers and discuss how organizations can leverage these traits to drive positive change and innovation.

Three key personality traits from the Big Five model contribute to an agile mindset in managers:

  1. Conscientiousness: Highly conscientious individuals value structure, discipline, and control, and have a low tolerance for errors. In the past, these trait were highly valued in the workplace. However, in the modern work environment, this trait can be counterproductive when agility is the goal. Agile transformation requires flexibility and rapid decision-making instead of excessive planning. Leaders with a high level of conscientiousness must learn to tolerate a higher probability of errors, embrace them as opportunities for growth and development, and prioritize adaptability over rigid structures.
  2. Openness: A high level of openness is essential for an agile mindset. Highly open individuals are interested in new developments, tend to find creative solutions, and critically question established structures. They embrace change and thrive on new ideas and challenges. Leaders with high openness are more likely to thrive in agile environments, because they can adapt to new situations and foster a culture of innovation and continuous improvement within their teams. On the other hand, managers with low openness may resist change and cling to familiar routines, acting as a brake on agile transformation efforts.
  3. Agreeableness: In the agile work environment, cooperation is crucial. Flat hierarchies and teamwork replace old, entrenched structures. Successful leaders should be team players rather than individualists, which is reflected in the cooperation dimension of their personality. Highly cooperative leaders are more likely to work well with their team members, empathize with their individual needs, and foster a collaborative environment that fosters creativity and innovation. In contrast, less cooperative and more competitive managers may struggle to adapt to the collaborative nature of agile work environments.

Despite the importance of these personality traits for agile transformation, research shows that 36% of managers have above-average conscientiousness levels, and more than 30% tend towards stability, which is the opposite of openness. Additionally, 40% of managers are found to be less cooperative and more competitive [1]. These findings suggest that many managers may not possess the ideal personality traits for leading agile transformation efforts.

While personality is relatively stable, it is essential to place leaders with an agile mindset in areas that require transformation. However, not every leader needs an agile mindset, as transformation is a critical aspect of leadership but not the only one. Each personality has its strengths and is suitable for different tasks. For example, managers with a more traditional leadership style may still excel in areas that prioritize efficiency and stability over innovation and change.

In conclusion, understanding and embracing the agile mindset in managers is vital for a successful agile transformation. Organizations should focus on selecting and developing leaders with the right personality traits to drive positive change and innovation. This can include assessing current leaders for their compatibility with agile principles, providing targeted training and development opportunities, and ensuring that leaders with an agile mindset are placed in positions where they can drive transformation efforts. By fostering a culture that values adaptability, openness, and collaboration, organizations can better meet the challenges of the modern business landscape and achieve lasting success.

  1. Franke R. (2022). Agiler Wandel beginnt im Kopf von Führungskräften. Wirtschaftspsychologie aktuell 4|2023, 7 ↩︎