by Sharon Florentine

How to coach executives to become agile leaders

Aug 26, 2015
Agile DevelopmentCareersIT Leadership

Agile coaches wear lots of different hats. Michael Hamman of the Agile Coaching Institute shares five roles agile coaches play when helping executives achieve transformational leadership.

Agile coaches wear a lot of different hats. They are teachers, mentors, friends, business consultants and sometimes even therapists to the leaders they’re guiding through transformational change. In a session held at Agile Alliance 2015 earlier this month, Michael Hamman of the Agile Coaching Institute shares the five most important roles agile coaches must assume as they work with enterprise clients.

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Disorienting Partner

Enterprise executive leaders need their agile coaches to constantly provoke them with new and challenging perspectives, says Hamman. An effective agile coach must have a different angle that can momentarily disorient who they are coaching and show them a new way of thinking. “What’s dangerous, as an executive, is getting stuck in a rut as far as your thinking about an issue. Agile coaches can provide new vocabulary or a new perspective on how and why a problem is so thorny,” Hamman says.

Thinking Partner

An agile coach must be able to think and talk through tough problems with their executive coaches, and be willing to listen as that executive spitballs new ideas and new ways of thinking. “It can be lonely as an executive leader, and it’s scary to share new thoughts that haven’t been fully formed. A solid agile coach will have the capacity to follow another person’s thinking and ask relevant questions that will help better shape that executive’s strategy and, therefore, the company’s direction,” he says.


Having the courage to outline the problems you see and what you believe should be done about them is really tough, even for an agile coach, whose job is to do just that. Hamman describes himself as someone whose first instinct is to comply with ideas and directives from executives, and it’s a tough hurdle to overcome. “The thing is, as an agile coach, executives need you to call them on their bull. You have to be a truth-teller and lay it out as you see it, even if you’re nervous; otherwise, nothing will change,” Hamman says.


The relationship between and agile coach and an executive must be built on trust, compassion and honesty, otherwise, it’s not going to work. Developing a mentor/mentee relationship takes time and work, but it’s beneficial to all parties involved. As a mentor, an agile coach must have something to teach that the executive is lacking, and the executive must possess the self-awareness to know that s/he needs help solving problems. “You have to be someone that’s there when the going gets tough, because these conversations can be rough. You must cultivate a relationship and a connection that will allow for free, back-and-forth communication, compassion and curiosity,” Hamman says.


Finally, an agile coach must be patient, kind and understand that transformation on such a large scale is a process; there will be steps forward and back, and it won’t happen overnight. “Executives need someone on their side who understands that this is a process, and again, you have to maintain a relationship with the executives so they know you won’t abandon them when the going gets tough. You also must hold onto memories so that you can relay status and progress reports so they can see how far they’ve come,” Hamman says.

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