You Might be an Agile Leader if . . .


I just attended the Agile Dev, Better Software, & DevOps East Conference in Orlando, FL.  My esteemed colleague, Bob Galen, gave the  opening Keynote at the main conference.

His talk was called You might be an agile leader if . . . as an homage to Jeff Foxworthy and his standup comedy theme You might be a redneck if . . . Bob actually put a note out to his social network to spark some discussion around patterns of leadership, and the response was overwhelming.  Bob pulled many of these ideas, crowdsourced from dozens of leaders, into a really excellent talk. Here are a some of the ideas and themes, split and rearranged in my own way.

You recognize that Leader and Leadership are nominalizations of the verb to lead. This is an action that anyone can engage in as the situation calls for.  There are various forms of leadership, and many ways to approach it. We often hear of the concept of servant leadership, but there are forms (transformational, behavioral, situational, etc.)  Leadership should be contextual, and it should be woven into the specific cultural landscape of your organization.  You realize that agile leadership is an inside job.  You must work in parallel with others, and co-create a meaningful purpose at work.

You base decisions off of the objective evidence of working <product>. Use this as a decision point to refine and draw inferences. You understand that asking questions is fare more important than giving answers. But they have to be the right questions. Things like “Are you done yet?” is not a a good question. They have to have the right style.  Instead, try things like “What are your options?” or “What could you try?”

You mull things over continuously, and carefully consider when and when not to engage. Observe, reflect, and allow the team to learn, and allow their behavior to emerge. You can control your desire to inflict help. Teams need your support, but it may be more impactful for them to learn to fish, than to be given a fish. You listen twice as much as you speak. You have two ears and only one mouth. Listen with all of your senses. Observe tone, body language, and other forms of nonverbal communication.

You create the space for agility, but also provide cover when required.  You give teams space for creativity and innovation.  You cannot run at 100% utilization and also expect innovation. You found yourself telling managers and teams to slow down in order to go fast. You limit work-in-progress (WIP), and develop a lean-agile governance model. You ask team members for their advice, and push decisions as low as possible. 

You have taken the time to share your vision and mission with every team member of your team. And you communicate and reinforce this vision through storytelling and rituals. In fact, you are willing to provide a vision and let others steer the ship. This is real trust. You never use trust but verify, but instead extend trust, and provide support. The key is to set clear goals, or provide a strong vision that lead to real goals.  You then get the hell out of the way. 

You realize that cross-functional, leadership alignment is crucial.  This matters at all levels of an organization.  Align on principles, values, tactics, and goals.  The same message should be shared across the org. You realize that the culture of an organization is shaped by the best behavior that you are willing to exemplify. You strive to be the change you want to see in the world, and you seek out others that are championing change and you support and empower them. Create a culture and environment where others come to you for advice, and they pull transformation and change, rather than have it pushed on them. You are a role model for other leaders: walking your talk, doing not saying, and mentoring others.

You truly believe that the success of the team is more important than your success. Your behavior will reflect this.  You try to break down that traditional model of management where your purpose is to build a team to make you look good so that you can get promoted.  And you show some vulnerability. You burst into spontaneous applause when a team does good work. Be joyful and appreciative.

You are insatiably curious about learning. You value continuous improvement. You have a growth mindset. You not only work with others to do relentless reflection through retrospectives, but also look inside yourself and do regular introspection to find ways to improve. You don’t shy away from hard conversations — you are a courageous, straight-shooting, truth teller. I have heard Bob use this exact phrase more than once.

You have discovered that “plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” A famous quote by GEN(R) Dwight Eisenhower. Plans must change based on results.  You are willing to take a little leap of faith (or a big leap of faith). Never get stuck in your plans. Instead of looking for individuals to blame, you look for impediments in the system. You have a systemic view, and optimize the whole. Your budget favors values streams rather than projects and people rather resource.  You have vowed (at the conference or on your own):  I will never ever refer to people as resources for the rest of my natural life. And if I do, I will send Bob Galen $25 every time.

 It seems agile leadership (strikethrough intentional, as it is all just discipline agnostic  leadership) is really getting some interest.  I am excited to explore other ideas around leadership, management innovation, and team building at the rest of the conference, and share what I can .



Until the next Iteration . . .




share your thoughts?