Leader and manager, what is the difference? Is there any? People are often mixing these terms up so let’s make it more clear.
Firstly, managers shall be leaders. That’s where the confusion is most likely coming from. But leaders are not just managers, leader is not a position, anyone can be a leader. In an Agile organization where hierarchy is becoming less important, we take more focus on leadership than management. There is no authority given to a leader. They gain it by their actions and behaviors and by their service to the people around them. Leaders could be anywhere in your organization and their power grows by respect of others. Managers, on the other hand, are often associated with decision making, and certain power which must be given to them.
Leaders are key to any Agile organization. The more leadership is in the organization, the more likely the mindset will change and the Agile transformation will become successful.
“Leaders need to change first. The organization will follow. “
Don’t wait for anyone, you are the leader you can change today. Agile is not about practices, rules, or processes. Agile is about the different way of thinking, different way of approaching things, different mindset. And it’s all in your hands. You are the leader.
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.
Modern world brings not only the different way of developing software called Agile but also changes in the organizational structure and leadership. You see it more and more often. People at the classes are asking why their managers are not there to hear the message. But very often they are, and they are ready to change the entire organization and their leadership style.
The ‘Shu’ level of Agile transformation is focused on practices and individuals or teams. How can we start? As a result, we create small isolated islands of Agility where we get to experience and learn more about what does it mean to be Agile. Sometimes companies are looking for shortcuts. But you can’t skip this level. It’s your foundation. If you make it solid, you are more likely going to be successful with Agile at the organizational level. At this level, you might see some improvements, but can’t achieve greater efficiency across the whole organization.
The ‘Ha’ level of Agile Transformation is when you start Scaling phase. This is where the Business Agility starts to take place. That’s where the different leadership starts to be critically needed as you have to grow the different structure and mindset. The key focus is shifting towards how to develop leaders and how senior employees are growing within a company. As the right culture is getting its place, people are coming with innovative creative ideas which can make a difference in the company results. This situation is currently the biggest challenge we are facing now as an industry and its topic of many discussions. Together with Scaling frameworks (like LeSS – Large Scale Scrum) which address the organizational design, we talk about different Agile management practices, Agile HR, Agile in marketing, Agile in finance. Companies that understand this can create an environment that is more efficient, productive, and more successful than anything we have ever achieved with classical management methods.
Finally, the ‘Ri’ level of Agile transformation starts when the Business Agility is the normal way you operate your business. We have individual Agile leaders in the organization, and people take over initiatives. This is a time for another organizational shift. At this stage, we have a true Agile executive team, focusing on long-term strategy and Agile Board of Directors focusing on the purpose and vision both working as teams collaborating together. Both truly living Agile values.
The world is changing in cycles, fashion goes in cycles, and the same is true for Agile. What was trendy yesterday, is not today and it can change surprisingly fast 🙂 So let’s have a look what are the new trends in Agile and what the Agile community is talking about:
Agile Leadership and Agile Organization
Agile is not just a set of practices how to write a good software, but it’s more and more used in every part of the organization. The traditional leadership (leader-follower model) is no longer acceptable in Agile environments. In the previous years, almost everybody focused on teams and how to adopt Agile, Scrum, and Kanban to the teams. But if we want to be successful at the organizational level, this is not enough. We need to push boundaries and help the whole organization to change. Hand in hand with that, we need to grow Agile leaders and support Agile leadership which is the critical key to the organizational success with Agile.
Agile out of IT
As it was already mentioned, for real success, it’s important to change the whole organization into Agile. The common practice is to change IT department and leave it as isolated island inside the traditional organization. But this is just the beginning. The company has to follow the same culture and the same style of the working, so you hear more and more about Agile in HR and talent management, Agile finances, Agile marketing etc.
Finally, there is a term of Business Agility which brings back the real value of Agile. Agile was never meant to be development process of your IT. It was supposed to be business value driven. It should bring the startup mindset back to the organizations, and look at the delivery from a business perspective. Prioritize, deliver value in short cycles, get feedback, measure impact. This is the real Agile mindset.
If you are in Agile or do you plan to try and implement it focus on these topics because without it Agile become only an empty skeleton of practices and processes. Agile is organizational change, it changes the mindset, culture, leadership, and business focus. If you take it as such change, you are going to be successful with Agile.
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 the 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 competences and skills they have to have. So I created this Agile Leader Wheel so you can map the competences and skills.
Great Agile Leaders have four core competences in which they can create 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 Agile Leader Wheel is feedback. For Agile Organizations feedback is crucial, it makes the team and product feedback part of their DNA, it becomes 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 ability to implement change. For Agile Leaders the change is happening at three levels. Firstly there is change of 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 change at the system level, the whole organization level.
In addition to the mentioned competences, Agile leaders will need to balance the time when they need to take a decision and when it’s better to delegate and empower others to take decision and 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 organization as whole. Great Agile Leaders are not born this way but constantly develop those competences and skills. This concept is part of my Agile Leadership program where I help leaders to understand complexity of nowadays organizations and be successful in their roles. Looking forward to see you at some of my Agile Leadership workshops.
Culture is intangible. It’s hard to touch. Hard to define, hard to measure. However, it is the critical piece for the organizational success. We may debate if culture follows an organizational structure or vice versa, but I don’t think it is important. Culture reflects our values and philosophy. The way we are. Being Agile is about changing mindset. If enough people change their mindset, the culture changes and they become Agile Organization. Simple if you say it this way, but hard to do.
I’ve been looking for a good definition of culture for years. I surprisingly find it at CAL (Certified Agile Leadership) training which I attend from Michael Sahota in California. I very much like his way of describing culture, and I used it as an inspiration for my drawing.
The culture consists of two parts. The mindset and structure. I’ve always seen the mindset as the most important part of culture, a driving force. Something which can change the structure part if done well. To my belief structure is always preventing us from change, from being successful. So shall we change the structure or mindset? I would always go for the mindset. It’s harder, but it brings significantly better results. Create a clear goal. Purpose. Something which makes to you stand up every morning and put energy into it. Something you truly believe in and are willing to take ownership and responsibility for. Something which makes you collaborate with others, something which makes your day. When you succeed with the mindset, you are usually ready to change the structure. So I truly believe that structure follows mindset. Which is good, because as the first step you can start with changing yourself. 🙂
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.
As the world is getting more complex, organizations has to change to keep competitive. They must become more flexible, team oriented, self-organized. And as a consequence, the leaders shall adopt another approach to motivate people and lead the organizations to keep up the speed. Agile Leadership concept was created to help the leaders to understand the nature of the change which is happening in the business right now, and be able to react to the challenges which modern organizations brought in its all complexity. Agile Leadership concept is not about how to implement Agile, Scrum, Kanban, Extreme Programming, or Lean. You have people in your organization who can do that. The Leadership model is here for leaders, managers, directors, entrepreneurs, and owners to help them to sustain the change and be able to create Agile organization or become effective in it.
Organization is a complex system by itself as it deals with people and their behavior. There is no clear link between cause and effect. It’s a network of interdependent elements. It’s not predictable so the traditional approaches which expect predictability and consistency fail. It all worked until about 1970 as the world had been only complicated at that time. Nonetheless, a lot changed from that time. Globalization and Internet allows businesses to grow fast so the density of nowadays businesses is so huge and communication so fast that they involve each other all the time and cause doesn’t link to any predictable effect anymore.
The first step of the Agile Leadership model is “Get Awareness”. Awareness of the current reality, understanding of what’s happening around us, be mindful about the surrounding. Organization is a system which constantly sends signals. All we have to do is to be aware of them, notice them, and listen to them. The second step is “Embrace It”. It helps us to accept whatever is happening in the system without the urge to evaluate. Who knows what is good and what is bad. Our self-power is coming from our ability to gain enough clarity so it builds trust in the whole system. The third step is “Act Upon”. It uses the power gained in the previous step to influence things and change the system behavior.
To make it simple, in our Agile Leadership Program we guide you through those steps. Every change is difficult, and the change of ourselves is usually the toughest. However, the result will definitely pay off.
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: