Agile leadership & learning – a new paradigm

Scrumtrooper Image - Axis Agile - Used with permission

Scrumtrooper image, Axis Agile, Used with permission

What are the questions great Agile leaders ask themselves about learning?

My previous blog explained how great Agile leaders support delivery, as coaches, business drivers, purveyors of purpose and enablers. How do these four roles shape leaders’ approach to learning?

Applying the coaching lens to learning, great leaders ask: Do I share knowledge, skills and perspectives with my people, to foster their professional growth?

Do I understand the role that mastery plays in helping individuals feel more engaged in the work they do?

Do I emphasise and model the value of life-long learning?

Am I the person recommending books, meetups and stuff I’ve read on the Internet?

Do I blog, respond to blogs or start conversations on Slack or Twitter?

Applying the business lens to learning, great leaders ask: Do I foster practices that drive experimentation and learning, to maximise product lifecycle profits?

Applying the purpose lens to learning, great leaders ask: Do I help my people understand the value of what they’re delivering, so that they develop a sense of purpose?

This of course references Dan Pink’s 2009 publication Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. W. Edwards Deming in fact predates Pink when he writes in Out of the Crisis in 1982, “The aim of leadership should be to …bring pride of workmanship to people”. In 1988 Deming revised this phrase to “joy of workmanship” and it refers to purpose.

Since Pink’s 2009 publication there have been a flurry of books on the topic of purpose, including Appelo in 2011 and unsurprisingly a couple of great little TED books from last year, Beyond Measure: The Big Impact of Small Changes, by Margaret Heffernan and Why We Work by Barry Schwartz.

I really like the work of Steve Denning on the topic of purpose and delivery, so I’ll quote him here:
“Delighting other people is inherently motivating…
The meaning of work isn’t in the bread that we’re baking; it’s in the enjoyment the customers get from eating the bread.
The meaning of work isn’t in the words the actor is reciting; it’s in the response of the audience to those words.”

So I’ll add to the list of questions that great leaders ask themselves: Do I expose my people to customers, suppliers and other world views to connect them with customers?

Applying the enablement lens to learning, great leaders ask: Do I create a culture where it is safe to fail? This question of course comes from an understanding that we learn from both failure and success.

Do I reward teams that experiment to learn?

Do I take a systems approach to learning, understanding that to resolve impediments I must see the whole, rather than just the component parts?

Do I use lean techniques to focus on the entire value stream, to measure and learn?

Am I am a driver for development of strong chapters and communities of practice, to support both new and expert practitioners?

In an interview online, Carsales.com CIO Ajay Bhatia talks about his leaders’ engagement in communities of practice:
“We run a book club for the leadership team across product and technology, where we discuss the most important things we picked out from the book and go away and try and implement those things among our teams… Our book club has been so successful that now it is no longer only limited to the leadership team and the number of members is ever increasing. This is creating a culture where we are constantly picking up new ideas and ensuring what we build in Australia is no less than world class.”

Jeff Smith, CIO of IBM, said in the keynote address at Agile Australia 2016, “it’s important for people to try stuff, but not get the OK from me to do it”.

Great Agile leaders know that learning isn’t just about sitting with individuals once a year to set a learning plan. It’s about always asking, “What did you try? What did you learn?”

Do you model these behaviours? Do you know leaders who have changed the paradigm?

Read on to learn the questions great Agile leaders ask about rewarding right behaviour and celebrating success.

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