10 Leadership Principles That Make You An Effective Leader of Agile Teams

Marianne Slotboom
Mar 30, 2022

The qualities that make you an outstanding team member may earn you a manager title, but they aren’t the same skills you will need to be a great leader.
If you are determined to be a good leader and motivate your team in the best possible way, research on high-performing teams reveals these 10 behavioral skills to be crucial for your leadership.

Leadership Principle 1: Giving AUTONOMY

In his book Drive, Daniel Pink talks about autonomy as being one of the most important keys to motivation. It is common knowledge that few things frustrate people more than being told exactly what to do and when to do it.  

Work with your team to define clear objectives and agree on how you will measure success. How to achieve these objectives should largely be left up to your team members. They’re closest to the work, and giving them enough autonomy helps their professional growth.

Learn the 4 styles of Situational Leadership and when to give instructions, convince, coach and delegate. Resist the urge to micromanage when people already have the maturity to work on their own.

Leadership Principle 2: Supporting GROWTH

Career guidance and mentorship is a crucial part of your role as a leader. That is why it's important to have career-related discussions in your one-on-one, at least twice a year, and fuel them with open-ended questions. Some ideas for questions are:

  • What do you like most and least about your role now?
  • Where do you see yourself in two years? Four years?
  • What does our team/company needs that we don’t have enough of now?
  • Which types of projects could you work on in the immediate term to help build the skills you’ll need for the next phase of your career?

Don't be afraid to have these discussions, because the possibility team members perceive for career development is one of the most important factors that make people stay.

Leadership principles for agile teams

Leadership Principle 3: Providing INFORMATION

Leaders who are transparent help build trust within their team. Share relevant information from up the chain on a regular basis. Your team will see how their work fits into the strategy of the company. They will accomplish more of the right things when they see how their work fits into the larger picture.

In general, research shows that there is a strong positive correlation between performance and a shared sense of purpose. People want to know their added value to the end results and see that their job is meaningful with a positive impact on others. 

Also inform team members and set clear expectations for how the team works together. Do you have a structure for information sharing, a zero-interrupting policy in meetings, guidelines for deadlines? Make sure everyone in your team is well informed about these "rules of engagement". 

Leadership Principle 4: Active LISTENING

Great minds don’t always think alike. In fact, divergent thinking is probably the most important ingredient for solving complex problems in novel ways. There are simple things you can do as a leader to encourage it.

First, value each person's perspective by active listening, even when it's different from your own. Shut your laptop during meetings as much as possible, don’t check your phone while a team member is standing at your desk, summarize what they’ve said to confirm you’ve understood correctly.

Secondly, actively invite your team to challenge your decisions when they disagree and offer new ideas. Explain that creative friction is a good thing and that you didn’t hire them to agree with you all the time. Acknowledge them for having the courage to share their thoughts and show them that you take their ideas seriously. 

Leadership Principles 5: Having EXPERTISE

Chances are, you earned your leadership position by being an exemplary individual contributor. And it is good to continue demonstrating subject matter expertise. You need to keep your skills fresh enough to understand the work your team is doing and give them valuable feedback. But don’t go too deep.

The fastest way to lose your leadership role is to  keep doing the same work you were doing before.  

Be a mentor when your team needs you, but don't exaggerate it. You don’t have to come up with the boldest ideas or be the best coder. You do have to show up for your people.

Leadership Principle 6: Knowing how to PRIORITIZE

It’s comforting to think in terms of tasks to complete. As soon as the task is complete you get the satisfaction of moving that item to the “done” column and getting started on the next one. But achieving the objectives is not about to do lists, it's about understanding the big picture.

Keep your team focused on the why behind their actions and the objectives that are important for the coming period. What has to be done now, what within a few days, what can wait.

Prioritizing as well helps them to organize their work and it helps you to give them as much decision-making authority as possible.

Leadership Principle 7: Giving RECOGNITION

Giving recognition is the easiest way to motivate people and yet the most neglected. Research has shown that leaders who simply verbally recognize the work done well by their team members can improve their performance (Stajkovi & Luthans, 2001). However, you need to learn how to give recognition.

First, identify the behavior you want to see in the workplace, like "helping others when they ask for your support". And when you see this behavior, simply mention to the employee and thank him or her.

It is important to mention the behavior, just saying "good job" is not enough because it does not really inform the team member what exactly they did well. 

Leadership Principle 8: Setting OBJECTIVES

One of the most validated theories of motivation is goal setting theory (Locke & Latham, 2002). This theory states that individuals will perform better when they receive specific difficult goals versus vague and easy goals.

There are several conditions that need to be in place:

  • Goals need to be specific and difficult (but attainable).
  • It is better to set short term goals with long term goals instead of only giving only short term goals or only distal goals.
  • If people do not know how to attain a goal or if the task is too complex it is best to give a learning goal instead of a performance goal.

Leadership Principle 9: Being OPEN-MINDED

Try to be open-minded about personal requests and show consideration for team member's specific needs. It might be about flexible working hours, working from home, the care for a sick child or to have to let the plumber in. Or maybe they have a long commute and need to shift their hours earlier or later to avoid the worst of rush hour traffic.

If you’re willing to entertain reasonable requests, they will pay you back in dedication, motivation and loyalty.

Leadership Principle 10: Providing FEEDBACK

Give your team members actionable feedback that improves performance.

The best way to make feedback actionable is to make it immediate.

Don’t wait until annual review time. Don’t even wait until your next one-on-one meeting. Whenever possible, deliver feedback within a day of whatever event you’re commenting on so it’s fresh in everyone’s minds. A quick word in the hallway or ping via chat is perfectly fine. In case it is about more critical feedback, it's better to take time for a personal conversation.

Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor (and a former Google executive) argues you need only two elements to provide effective feedback: show that you care personally and challenge the other person directly. Don’t sugarcoat a critique, but deliver it with compassion.

A good guideline for this is the DESC, Describe, Express, Suggest and talk about (positive) Consequences. You can find a detailed description of how to give constructive feedback in our article "Mastering the art of giving feedback".  

How AGILE PROOF is your leadership?

AGILE PROOF: Check how you are doing on the 10 Leadership principles

 You will have seen that the first letters of these 10 aspects form an acronym that stands for AGILE PROOF. Check how you are doing on these 10 aspects and decide where you could improve to be a motivational leader for your team.


  • Goff-Dupont, S. (2021). How to be an effective leader, according to Google's research. Fast Company.
  • Pink, D.H. (2009). Book. Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us.
  • Bersin, J. (2014), It's time to rethink theEmployee engagement issues. Forbes.
  • Locke, E.A. & Latham, G.P. (2002).Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task performance.American Psychologist.
  • Masuda, A.D. (2016). How to motivate your employees to perform well? Performe at work. EADA Business School.
  • Scott, K. (2017). Book. Radical Candor: How to get what you want by saying what you mean.

Marianne Slotboom
The author
Marianne Slotboom

Marianne is a strategic partner and practical developer of human behavior that helps leaders, teams and organizations become more focused and effective, elevating their value to customers. In 2015, Marianne founded Yellow Training to answer the call for more inspirational and creative leadership in the modern workplace.

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