Learn about the qualities of effective Agile leaders


Video Transcript

We're going to talk a little bit about the six coaching skills that I worked with and we're going to do a little lab so each of these sections is going to have a little lab. My goal is to talk for less than half an hour. Alright, so let's start out with my journey as a leader. 

I came out of university or college or whatever you want to call it and what did I learn? Well I learned from the Industrial Revolution how to lead organizations. How well does that work in agile? Not very. So that was one of the things that I learned very early when my team started going Agile, when I was a leader in the organization, I'm like a fish out of water: I had no idea what I'm supposed to do. I actually wrote to Ken Schwaber and said “Ken, what do managers do?” He said “There are no managers.” For purposes of feeding my family and self-preservation, that didn’t really fly well.

Moving from Controlling Manager to Empowering Leader

So one of the things I embarked upon was growing out of that controlling manager position and becoming an empowering leader. How do I become an empowering leader? What does that mean? How do I get there? This is how my personal journey was: I went through a bunch of leadership development workshops. I went through communications; I went through some of the supplemental managerial training. So all of that helped me to make the transition from controlling manager into an empowering leader. 

For everybody who's taking pictures, these slides will be available for you. If you're just lazy, like I am, and you don't download them, then feel free. Okay, so that was the first step in my transition was to say “Hey, this manager stuff just doesn't fly, I'm not inspiring my team, I need to move and shift into something different.” Training got me there. 

Servant Leadership

The second thing that I came upon was servant leadership. How many people here have not heard of servant leadership? Servant leadership was originally founded by Robert Greenleaf. He created the Greenleaf foundation. If you look at a lot of the writings -- anybody on LinkedIn? -- if you join some of the discussion forums for Agile on LinkedIn, they talk a lot about servant leadership and how scrum masters should be servant leaders. That paradigm needs to be extended to our frontline managers. They need to also be servant leaders, and so I highlighted a couple of things here that I just want to bullet point real quick for you. The first of these are items that I have found that empowering leaders, Agile leaders, need--they must have in order to be successful. 

First, listening intently to others. Servant leaders need to be able to hear, to listen for what is said and what's not said. 

They need to have self-awareness; they need to know where they are and they need to know where they are emotionally. Anybody heard of emotional intelligence? Servant leaders need a keen sense of emotional intelligence so that they know where they are and then they can respond appropriately to other people. That's one of the key components of emotional intelligence: awareness of myself and awareness of others. 

As a servant leader, I also need to be able to articulate the vision. What's the vision of our organization? What's the vision of our project or the product that we're working on? I need to understand what that vision is and I need to be able to articulate it to other people in order to enroll people into our cause.

Stewardship by serving others

So here we're talking about being able to serve others. How do we serve others? We solve problems for them. We also work on career progression. What's next for you? How do we challenge you? How do we make sure that you as an employee, as an associate in our organization, are fulfilled? What is it that you're doing every day? 

Good to Great

I just highlighted some tools that are very pertinent to me for an Agile leader. The next step that I took on my my personal journey was to read the book Good to Great. Anybody here read the book Good to Great? It was an awesome book, and in there Jim Collins mentions basically what attributes a level five leader has. A level five leader, for those of you who haven't read it,is somebody who can create an enduring vision and enduring ability to deliver over time, and not within their own time there, but also extend it beyond when they move on into an organization or retire or get their golden parachute or whatever it is. 

The level five executive is somebody who has these leadership characteristics. 

Ambition for the company, not for themselves, so they're ambitious. They want their company to succeed. It's not about them, it's about the company, it's about the mission, it's about serving others. 

They have compelling personal modesty which causes them to attribute success to other people, not to themselves. I like to say level five leaders shine a spotlight when there’s success. They shine the spotlight on the team and they look in the mirror when there's a failure or the results aren't what they're expecting. So they look to themselves for “what could I have done better?”. 

Engages in dialogue and debate, not coercion. Level 5 leaders want to have a dialogue about things because they know they don't have all the answers and, given that, they are also leading with questions. So those of you who went to one of the coaching workshops, did they talk about powerful questions? We want people to actually lead with questions, not with answers. As a leader, I didn't have all the best answers. I needed to field the best answers from the team. There's plenty of workshops here that are going to point to the power of an empowered team, and we all know this as leaders in the organization. We're experiencing it in our scrum teams, it's exactly what we're talking about here. 

And then “conducts autopsies of failure without blame.” So it's not the blame game, it is all about “Hey, what can we learn? How can we improve?” It's the retrospective and it's done on a higher level at a higher scale.

So what are the essential leadership characteristics of an Agile leader? Take your pick. The key here is you've got to know what's pertinent in your organization. What speaks in your organization? How do these leadership characteristics align with what you do in your organization and the cultural values that are there and the culture that is is within your teams as well? 

So if you came in here looking for the exact idea, the exact characteristics of leaders, you're not going to get it. You got to create your own map which is the exercise that we're going to do.