What is agile leadership about? How would you define it, how would you explain it? Those are just a few questions people are asking these days.
Agile leaders are able to inspire others, creates and communicate an appealing vision or a higher purpose which motivates organization and would constantly be looking for better ways of working through feedback. It’s about being inclusive, support others on their leadership journey. Being open to new ideas, experiments and innovations. Support creativity. Be able to garden the right mindset and creates cultures based on collaboration. Agile leader is a coach and good listener.
Agile leadership is not about tools, practices or methodologies. It’s an ability to look at the organization from the system perspective, understand system dynamics, be able to get awareness about what’s happening, embrace it, understand it and become an integral part of the system and finally be able to act upon and influence it with coaching, and initiate a change.
New management paradigm is about collaboration and trust, decentralization, continuous adaptation and flexibility, cooperation and teamwork. From the static management in the industrial era, we shifted to strategic management in last twenty years of the last century and moved quickly into the dynamic management which tries to keep up the speed with modern constantly changing, complex world. That’s the world which critically needs agile leadership as anything else is not flexible enough to deal with nowadays challenges. Companies need more creativity, collaboration, and innovations – simply agility. That’s the way how to be successful. That’s the way how to achieve their goals. That’s the way how to survive and don’t become new dinosaurs who are so huge, slow and inflexible that they eventually disappear from the world.
In order to achieve success at the organizational level, we need to start management talent development program to create leaders who will help to grow a company, make quick decisions and stay ahead of others. Modern leadership style is no longer applying the traditional model of the “leader-follower”, i.e. one decides and the other executes orders. Nowadays, when most employees are from the category of creative workers and the company is looking for innovation and creative ideas to stay competitive, the leader-leader model is a more effective one, where the leaders’ main goal is to help others to be successful leaders. What is modern Agile management or Agile leadership about?
Excellent Agile Leader has four core competencies: Ability to define the vision, motivate, gain feedback, and ability to influence through themselves, others and system.
The ability to formulate a vision is the engine of change and motivation. A vision is not necessarily linked to product and business but should be focused on the organization and its purpose. The second competency is the ability to motivate and give the energy. It is a competence closely related to the vision. If you have a good vision, it motivates itself. Agile leadership builds on so-called internal motivation to strengthen the autonomy of individuals and teams. The third of Agile leader’s competences is feedback. Feedback is DNA component for Agile Organization together with openness and transparency. The art of getting system-level feedback is critical for the leader. The last is the art of influencing complex environments. Change things, people and their behavior, support and consolidate culture. Agile leadership begins with a change of self, your judgments, values, and behavior, style of work. Great leaders start with themselves as a role model, to change the way they show up, how they interact with others, and how they can inspire people around them to collaborate, create a team spirit, and become leaders. They are capable of working with the entire system and influence the whole organization and its culture.
Agile Leader Wheel also defines four supporting competencies to help leaders define the right approach. When is it better to decide and when decisions can be delegated and it’s better to collaborate. At the same time, when it’s better to take a role of facilitator and when start coaching. We do not talk that much about coaching individuals, which of course may be useful, but coaching the whole system – teams and organizations as a whole. Excellent Agile Leaders have not been born as Agile Leaders, but they are constantly looking for new ways to get better and to gain and strengthen the above-mentioned competencies.
The more Agile Leadership is popular, people are asking for more description. Who is the Agile Leader, what makes him different from a traditional manager, and which competencies and skills they have to have. So I created this Agile Leader Wheel so you can map the competencies and skills.
Great Agile Leaders have four core competencies in which they can create a vision, enhance motivation, get feedback, and implement change. Vision is the driving engine. It’s not necessarily related to the product and business but the organization itself. The second segment is motivation. Agile Leaders understand the nature of motivation, are familiar with the power of intrinsic motivation of autonomy and purpose. The third one from the top section of the Agile Leader Wheel is feedback. For Agile Organizations feedback is crucial, it makes the team and product feedback part of their DNA, it becomes an integral part of their culture. The same for Agile Leaders, the regular feedback from the system is the key to their success. The last piece is the ability to implement change. For Agile Leaders, the change is happening at three levels. Firstly there is a change in myself, my own beliefs, reactions, the way I work. Secondly, there is the ability to influence others. Make them part of my team, get supports who will help me to lead the change. Finally, the third element of change is a change at the system level, the whole organization level.
In addition to the mentioned competencies, Agile leaders will need to balance the time when they need to make a decision and when it’s better to collaborate and empower others to take a responsibility for that. Finally, on the right side, Agile Leaders are facilitators and coaches. We are not speaking here about one-one coaching. Great Agile Leaders use coaching as a spice to address the complexity at the system level and coach the organization as a whole. Great Agile Leaders are not born this way but constantly develop those competencies and skills. This concept is part of my Agile Leadership program where I help leaders to understand the complexity of nowadays organizations and be successful in their roles. Looking forward to seeing you at some of my Agile Leadership workshops.
Let’s continue with the last element of ‘Myself’ dimension. As we already said in the previous blog posts, each element of this dimension is represented by a dice which you can roll every day of Sprint and choose the aspect you are going to take. The fourth dice stands for leadership. If you want to transform the organization, your leadership style shall change first. In this element, we talk about being a servant leader, creating the culture, feedback, motivation, collaboration, and leader-leader style.
ScrumMaster is a leadership role. One of the aims of ScrumMaster is to make others work better, they are servant leaders. They can heal relationships, create communities, listen to others, have empathy, and think beyond day-to-day tasks and short-term goals. Only when you become servant leader you can be the great ScrumMaster.
Agile needs the right culture. It’s all about us, how we work as a team. Be collaborative, support each other, take over responsibility and ownership for the team. ScrumMasters shall be using their leadership skills to create such culture because without it Agile and Scrum can never be successful.
Give and receive feedback is critical for every leader. It’s important prerequisite to inspect and adapt. ScrumMasters shall be actively searching for feedback and find creative ways to allow people to learn from it.
Part of the motivation is coming from the environment and culture. ScrumMasters support intrinsic motivation factors as they are aligned with their goal to create a self-organized team. Motivate through an understanding of the purpose and clear goals, safe to fail learning environment, and open and transparent culture.
Collaboration is written in the Scrum DNA. Scrum is all about teams and collaboration. There is no individual work important in real Scrum, no individual goals. We do our best to achieve the goal – deliver value to the customer.
The leader-leader model helps you to change the traditional leadership style of leader–follower where people are expected to follow orders into the leader-leader concept of servant leadership where leaders are here to help the other people to grow and become leaders themselves.
Organizations are constantly evolving. In the 1970’s the most common organizational structure was the pyramid structure. It was deep, hierarchical, and full of power. Companies got strong bosses who lead such structure. Internally their approach was full of command and control, bureaucracy, and standardization.
Those pyramid hierarchical structures were not wrong in any way. They were the perfect solution to world industrialization and to the dynamics of business at that time. Most of the companies followed the best practices for a simple world, where problems can be classified as obvious, and applied a simple structure to address it. And it worked. Bosses got results. Companies started growing and became more successful.
The most common management tool was a carrot and a stick, because organizations believed that their employees are lazy slackers who can’t work without it. Most of the people were in a mood of tribal leadership 2 where the motto is “my life sucks”. Complaining all the time. Not happy, not motivated. Their only motivation to do something was driven by getting some bonus – a carrot, or because they were forced to – a stick.
Twenty years later, Organization 2.0 was here addressing the difficulty of the business world focusing on specialization, processes, and structure. Companies realized that the world is not simple any more, and the majority of problems can be classified as complicated.
As a result, they adopted complicated processes, focused on deep analysis, and invested in experts.
The belief in Organization 2.0 is that complicated problems need experienced individuals and detailed analysis. As a result, companies invested in learning and specialization. They began to grow. The work which used to be done by one person, now needed specific and dedicated positions. We’ve got a specialized department to deal with java, database, testing, architecture, analysis, documentation, customers, accounts, plans, and chair purchases.
Organizations are trying to create a process to describe everything, to have every possibility thought over. Companies create career paths and talk about motivation. They have spent months describing KPIs, but the more processes and specializations they had, the less responsibility and goal driven individuals they had. They were starving. They tried to cut on expenses, but that did not bring any long term success either.
So they dream about the previous stage, where it was much easier to manage resources. At that time, managers had real power. They could make decisions. They could force people to work. They could use the carrot and the stick. It was so simple – no need for committees, no need to call a meeting for every single detail. At that time, allocation of individual resources did not cost most of their time.
The pressure on individuals to make themselves more successful, better, and smarter than others was huge. “What if my colleague is be better in the performance review?” “What if I am not promoted in two years?” It leads to a culture that emphasizes own goals over the organizational ones. Most of the managers and experts live in the third level of the tribal leadership model, where they believe that “I’m great, but you are not.” So they treat their employees and colleagues with little respect or trust. This leads to the leadership style of “leader-follower”, where the managers decide, and the people below them just do the job. No initiative is expected. People just follow the process and do what is ordered.
Nowadays, when the world is not complicated anymore, neither Organization 1.0 nor Organization 2.0 can address its full complexity. We have realized that such complexity needs a very different approach that can keep up with business dynamics. The Agile environment brings Organization, 3.0 which builds on teams instead of individuals, on different styles of leadership, and on intensive collaboration through the dynamic network structure. We need to completely change the leadership style, create partnerships, enforce self-organization, enforce real responsibility and ownership, enforce trust and transparency, and build the organization as a network structure which is flexible enough so that it can effectively respond to change. Decentralization is taking over, and is bringing a certain level of autonomy to self-organized systems.
Instead of being a huge tanker, you can imagine the Organization 3.0 as a flotilla of smaller boats, going into the same direction, living in the same context, having the same values, but making some decisions differently based on the situation.
The Organization 3.0 is a true Agile organization. In order to build it, you need to apply a different leadership style of “leader-leader”, which supports growth of people, instead of “leader-follower” which is so common in Organization 1.0 and Organization 2.0. Hand in hand with this new leadership style, you need to create a culture of tribal leadership “We are great!” where the focus is not on the individuals but on the systems and teams.
Organizations are complex, as they have to deal with people’s behavior. People are not predictable. Every time we tried to make them behave in a predictable way, we failed. A modern Agile organization is built from people. It is a collaborative, creative, and adaptive network. It’s a sphere built from autonomous systems which are connected to each other, so they influence themselves but still keep consistent. Such a change of mindset is a huge mental challenge for most organizations.
So how to start?
– Help all people to become better leaders by applying the “leader-leader” leadership style, and build a culture of tribal leadership: “We are great!”
– Decentralize, build networks and communities.
– Allow autonomy in a well-defined context.
– Read my book The Great ScrumMaster, which is a guidebook not only for ScrumMasters, but also for leaders of any organization who want to become an Organization 3.0.
You can see my talk Agile Organization – Organization 3.0 at AGILEEE Conference 2016:
Great ScrumMasters are rare. Not because it is too difficult to become a great ScrumMaster, but because there is not enough advises on how to become one. Here are a few tips on how to become a great ScrumMaster. If you find this interesting, I’ve just finished a book, The Great ScrumMaster on Amazon.
Great ScrumMasters are leaders. They know how to create leaders from others. They believe in others and help them to become successful. They can create active communities and heal relationships. Don’t make them team assistants. They are coaches and facilitators.
The attitude you should bring along is curiosity and respect. Be a cultural anthropologist. Your role has never been to tell others what to do, but to understand them. Be able to see them as people. Don’t be judgmental. Being a ScrumMaster is like playing a strategic game. Be creative in searching different ways to approach teams and organizations.
Being a ScrumMaster, you are never done with learning. Attend Agile conferences, watch videos, read books and blogs. But there is more than that. Most ScrumMasters are missing any experiences in coaching, facilitation and change management. You can start with a book, but you need to experience it and practice it. So find one class per year to attend, and continuously improve your skills in the mentioned areas.
The goal of ScrumMaster is to build self-organized teams around them. Keep it in mind when you are working with a team. ScrumMaster is not any team assistant, nor their mother to do the work instead of them and prevent them from failing. In order to learn, teams must fail sometimes. They must grow up and become self-confident, take over responsibility and ownership.
Work at all three levels of the #ScrumMasterWay concept. Especially the last one – ‘Entire System’ is critical to your successful great ScrumMaster journey. In order to succeed here, you need to understand the system thinking and be able to approach the entire organization as a system. A systems view makes your role more interesting and fun.
The book contains many practical examples, tips, and exercises. It’s a guidebook on how to become a great ScrumMaster. You can get the book at Amazon. I hope you will enjoy it.