Agile or Traditional – Which Leadership Style is Best for Each Company?

Nicole Kluwe, trainer at PROAKTIV, spoke to us about the concept of “agile leadership” and why this is not the ideal solution for every company.


Nicole, please tell us about your work at PROAKTIV and what you like most about it.

Working at PROAKTIV means I’m constantly learning, which is really great. In the past few years, I’ve met a lot of different people from different backgrounds. So I was able to get impressions of a range of different companies and areas. At the same time, I tailor individualised solutions and ideas for my participants, to leave them optimally positioned as managers or sales staff. Due to the highly practice-oriented nature of our training courses, I am always closely involved with the participants. I like that what we teach, works! And that we live our lessons ourselves – from practice, for practice.

You work not only with the concept of agile leadership, but also with more traditional approaches. Which do you personally value more?

Agile leadership is not suitable for every company and every team. If you look at where agile leadership actually originated, you see a lot of start-ups and IT companies. Why are they more agile? Because they need to be able to react flexibly and quickly to market conditions. Because they want to be more dynamic than other companies when it comes to adjustments and error corrections. It is important to me to find out from customers what management style they currently use and how they want to position their companies in the future. Does agile leadership make sense or would the company be better served by a more traditional approach? Sometimes it makes sense to set up convert individual areas to agile leadership, and leave others traditional. One must remember remember that agility cannot be introduced overnight. This is a lengthy process and it’s important to first answer various questions for yourself and your company/team.

How would you explain agile leadership to someone who has never experienced leadership training?

Instead of decisions coming from the top down, agile leadership sees decisions being made at team level, with the customer, and wherever the most efficient implementation can be made. The employees work independently in self-organised teams. You have a high level of initiative and an intensive exchange. The manager becomes a sparring partner. The direction of efforts is outward, towards the customer, not inward. A certain culture of shame-free error is also practised. Instead of avoiding mistakes in advance, agile leadership is about admitting to mistakes and learning from them.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of agile leadership compared to traditional leadership?

The advantages include faster implementation of tasks, topics and products. Agile leadership also encourages and requires the cooperation of the employees. Self-determined and responsible work increases the employees’ sense of motivation and the connection to the company. Systems, procedures and processes become generally more transparent. As for the disadvantages? It can lead to employees being overwhelmed. The ‘training wheels’, as it were, come off. This increases the demands on the employee, and not every employee is up to the task. Some employees also feel that their work lacks predictability. What was works today might not tomorrow. And for upper management, it means having to let go to a certain extent. They can no longer be in full control, but must trust in their employees and act in more of a corrective role. Not every manager can do that.

What can participants expect to get out of your workshops?

The realisation that we all like to act via the traditional way of thinking, and that only through awareness of this fact are we able to become more “agile”. The agile motto, “fail fast, learn fast” has a lot to teach in practice.  Furthermore, they will also come to an understanding of whether agile leadership would work for them and their company or not.


Nicole Kluwe is 48 years of age and comes from Bonn Bad Godesberg. After graduating from high school, she completed an apprenticeship as an office clerk in a medium-sized data technology firm. Subsequently, she worked in customer service and international sales, sometimes as a department head. She trained as a demographical consultant and eventually went into business for herself, where she oversaw various start-ups in the area marketing and sales. Her coaching career at PROAKTIV began in 2012.

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