Who is the new Agile leader?

Into the Unknown - Thomas Hawk - Flickr Commons

Into the Unknown, Thomas Hawk, Flikr Commons

My previous blog put a case for why we need a new style of Agile leadership. To enable self-managing teams to contribute and thrive within the complex ecosystem that is the organisation of today, Agile leaders need to understand their role as fourfold:

  1. As a coach; to share knowledge, skills and perspectives to development people
  2. As business driver; to maximise product lifecycle profits
  3. As purveyor of purpose; to connect people with the purpose of what they do
  4. As an enabler; to support  people to thrive within their environment

Even for traditional managers, there’s probably nothing controversial about these four roles, inspired loosely by the thinking of Michael Hamman and Michael Spayd. In fact to varying degrees, traditional managers might even feel that they fulfil these four roles now.

Traditional managers may perceive themselves as coach, in that they expect individuals to develop a learning plan, and if time and budget permit, they support an employee achieving it.

Nigel Dalton, CIO of REA Group, described in an ITNews interview online as, the Godfather of Agile in Australia, describes the role of Agile leader as coach:

“The company is divided into a set of teams focused on a kind of consumer ecosystem where each one is discreet from the others. Commercial property owners is mine; which is the smallest one. [The others are residential property owners and property developers]. We have understood that [there] is a kind of …‘unique customer experience’ in each one of these ecosystems.

[We asked] what if we put a full multidisciplinary team on those, and we chose a collective group to manage it?

Thus, I am not the general manager of commercial real estate – there isn’t one. I am the steward or coach of a group of seven people who are IT, sales, marketing, product, legal, finance, and human resources. Young managers in their thirties, who’ve got every competency to work as a team, and run that 40 million dollar business. I am there as their coach and all the Agile techniques come in under that. It is pretty self-contained and self-directed. It has its purpose and goal that flow down from the main company purpose. We have replicated that across the company – this is the primary structure.”

In traditional management the focus will largely be on the business role. The narrative on this would be “I reward individuals and teams who do whatever it takes to get over the line”.

The purpose role is a tricky one. Barely a middle to large sized enterprise today exists without some sort of mission statement. In traditional management, the existence of this mission statement and some resultant values might be perceived as bringing purpose to people working in an organisation. I can tell you from experience though, that the yearly exercise of requesting folks shoehorn their performance into the predetermined values of the company doesn’t yield much sense of purpose.

And finally to the enablement role. Traditional managers no doubt perceive themselves as enablers. They want their teams to succeed and would do pretty much everything to ensure this happens. I question though whether traditional managers would always take a holistic approach to enabling, seeing their team’s role in success of the whole organisation, rather than just success of the individual team.

Lisa Frazier, in her talk on Agile leadership at Agile Australia 2016, described how an Agile leader enables, by adopting a “follower-centred leadership style”. She cites three behaviours associated with this:

  1. Working for success of your team members above yourself
  2. Actively listening to your team
  3. Being a good follower

My favourite quote ever is from Nigel Dalton, at the same conference: “Leadership is not boss-ship, it’s servant leadership. Don’t ever mistake not being at the front with not being the leader”.

Jeff Smith, CIO of IBM, in the keynote address at Agile Australia 2016, said that “people come to work because they are ambitious and share the mission. The leaders’ job is to remove the obstacles”. Throughout this series of blogs, I’ll explore how great Agile leaders fulfil on their role as enabler.

Throughout this series of posts, I’ll contrast the role of Traditional Managers with Agile Leaders. What happens, when we ask great Agile leaders to reflect on these four roles in relation to the following leadership activities?

  • Decision making & problem solving
  • Communication
  • Delivery
  • Learning
  • Acknowledging success & rewarding right behaviour
  • Continuous improvement
  • Innovation

Read on to discover the questions great Agile leaders ask themselves in realtion to these activities.

 

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