One Simple Thing You Can Do Today To Become a Great Leader

Frida-cry-for-love

If your actions inspire others to dream more

To do more

To become more

Then you are a leader

John Quincy Adams

Close your eyes for a minute and think of the people in your life who did that for you?  How did they make you feel?

We’ll all describe this slightly differently but I can guess they had time for you – you felt special, they had wisdom – you listened to them, they believed in you – and you felt safe.

I know these people are special and memorable

And they’re rare – you can probably count them off on one hand

In business; my experience is that these leaders are the exception not the norm. I would like to be able to think this isn’t the case. I wasn’t born a great leader and it’s taken me a very long time to understand what it is and what it is not and put it into action.

I think like in a family, if we lack good role models, if we not shown the way – we do not know the way – some of us will eventually work it out for ourselves and come to good leadership.

Some of us never will – you know who you are, we know who you are.

I think although we know a lot of about leadership, we are still not producing great leaders or great role models as the norm.

And that’s a massive problem in my opinion

Victor Lipman in a recent Forbes article Why are So Many Employee Disengagedcites a study by Dale Carnegie Training that placed the number of  US “fully engaged” employees at 29%, and “disengaged” employees at 26% – if this is correct then nearly three-quarters of employees are not fully engaged.

And the number one factor the study cited influencing engagement and disengagement was “relationship with immediate supervisor.”

Why? Why should this relationship matter to much us? 

We have expectations of our leaders, just as we do with our parents and I don’t think many leaders/managers fully understand this psychological contract.

And they do not understand the responsibility that comes with the position.

Let’s go back to what we were talking about earlier – how good leaders make us feel. Why do good leaders make us feel that way and why is it significant?

In our personal lives we learn the difference between good and bad friendships. A good relationship should make you feel happy, confident, inspired, open to communicating and free to be you = safe. A good relationship should not make you feel insecure, unsafe, second guessing and/or afraid to speak up.

Karen Salmonsohn in her blog Signs Your In a Great Relationship talks about Jim Collins book, Good To Great. She explains that one of the most important qualities necessary to grow a company from “good to great” is the ability to speak “harsh truth” — be a “front-stabber,” as she likes to say.

Harsh-truth-speaking is the only way a company can gain needed blind-spot insights— what’s holding it back from greatness.

 Harsh-truth-speaking is essential to growth, companies that are run by nice, empathic, trust-worthy bosses tend to be the ones which grow from “good to great” —because employees are less afraid to harsh-truth-speak to them.

There’s that safety thing again.

Simon Sineck’s talks a lot about safety, Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe(check out the TED Talk). He makes many analogies about being a great parent and a great leader. These leaders build a culture of trust and  co-operation in their teams and organisations.  They give love and respect, clear boundaries, they believing in others and support them to do their best.

Your never second guessing with these leaders, they give you feedback, you know where you are – always.

Transparency isn’t overrated

I think a lot about sport and the dichotomy between what we as players or fans expect from our sports teams and what we put up with in a working environment.

I was reminded of this watching Sunday afternoon the American cultural phenomenon – football. San Diego vs Denver. I vaguely know each team gets 4 go’s at making 10 meters – the ultimate goal being a touchdown and a conversion. Every person has a position and a role to play in the team.   Your only to make any ground if you have a game play and you play as a team.

Can you imagine if team members competed with each other to get the ball? Had cliques and favourites – only passed to some and not others? What if you never took time to review the game play, what if feedback wasn’t given to team members and team members ganged on others and blamed them?

This is so farcical in a sporting sense yet so common place in our organisations.

And if we are going to call ourselves leaders, creating a culture of trust and co-operation in our teams and our organisations start with us.

“If you are going to be the best that you can be, you are going to have to front up, and get it sorted. Knowing what you want, and being prepared to fight for it puts you at the front of the pack. Fronting up becomes more important precisely as it becomes harder … that is what makes you successful. You have to decide whether to take the easy option or take the tough, sometimes painful road. My choice? Front up. Every time. This is me, and this is who I am. This is what I stand for, and this is my life. I will front up. You have a simple choice. You have to decide. Do you stand up or step aside? To be the best that you can be, front up.”

 Sean Fitzpatrick – Former All Black Captain

So what is the one simple thing you can do today to become a great leader?

Take one action and do one thing today to make your team or individuals to feel safe 

RINSE AND REPEAT 

Agile Bal Masqué

Mask

To the people

In the new world

Haven’t you heard

Everybody’s got a great life

We’re living in the blur

Tokio Hotel

After almost a year of being lost in an parallel space and time continuum of an Agile Transformation – I’ve learnt many things, Of most importance to me?

That Agile means different things to different people.

For some, agile means adopting ‘proper’ Scrum, working in iterations, daily inspection, adaption and transparency, collaboration and team work. For others, it can mean the waterfall-style development,with some aspects of the ceremonies and practices such as daily stand-up meetings.

I have definitely become less of a ‘purist’ when considering adopting agile outside of software development than working with development or project teams. I sense its somewhere between Shu and Ha in this operational context of agile transformation. Subsequently I’ve become obsessed with spotting Agile anti-patterns.

I’ve made many mistakes – the consolation is that this is supposed to be normal.

I hope you can learn from mine.

In your agile adoption or transformation journey, when this becomes unbalanced, you will experience and see some obvious symptoms.

If your approach is very process orientated with strict adherence to the Scrum processes with less emphasis on say transparency, team work and collaboration you probably won’t have a happy or high performing team but you’ll get some stuff done.

Inversely if you choose to adopt only some of the practices and ceremonies and focus on collaboration for example but aren’t inspecting and adapting with transparency then I think you could end up with a variation of agile which isn’t ‘pure’ Agile.

And does that really matter in the end?

Regardless of where you stand in this continuum, to be an Agile organisation or business unit I’ve formed the view that you need to have the right balance of Agile strategy, mind-set – people, interactions, behaviors, culture and processes, practices and tools for you. 

Different strokes suit different folks.

I think this is particularly relevant to Agile in an operational context.

After all, as long as you have some sort of agility it makes sense, doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t want their organisation or their change initiative to be more agile?

Scrum & Agile

Let’s revisit what Scrum is and its importance to Agile.

Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland developed Scrum. The Scrum Guide describes Scrum as a framework where teams can address complex adaptive problems, while productively and creatively delivering products of the highest possible value.

Scrum as a framework is lightweight, simple to understand but difficult to master. Edwin Dando has talked about this with me many times – I now well understand what he means.

“The Scrum framework consists of Scrum Teams and their associated roles, events, artefacts, and rules. Each component within the framework serves a specific purpose and is essential to Scrum’s success and usage. The rules of Scrum bind together the events, roles, and artefacts, governing the relationships and interaction between them”.

Each component within the framework serves a specific purpose and is essential to Scrum’s success and usage

And so common is it for Agile teams to find themselves skipping over the key components that it’s got its own term and Wikipedia definition – Wagile. Agile + Waterfall = Wagile.

“….that result from slipping from agile back into waterfall, doing a lot of short waterfalls and thinking it is agile”  

I think Scrum is an important framework and I’ve seen broad adherence as well as a more looser interpretation. The loose interpretations I used to freak out about. I’ve become more comfortable with the looser approach to method because I’ve also seen that the agile mindset and ways of working – do work!

And what can you do in the future to ensure you stay on track with your Agile Transformation journey with an approach that works for you? What’s important to consider?

Recruit for Agile Mindset/Experience

You can recruit for this and it’s critical that you do. You might get push back that it doesn’t really matter. You can teach any framework but it’s much harder and takes a long time to teach Agile mindset. Perhaps you’ve inherited the team or new people have joined. Induction and expectation setting then takes on real importance    

Agile Working – What’s Importance to Us?

Being really clear about Agile – what it is, what it means, how you experience it and see it. Taking the time to explain that the principles behind say your stand ups or your planning process. What does “Team” mean and what it feels like when everyone is collaborating? How is the way we work different for an individual not familiar with Agile concepts? How does this play out day to day?

Be Really Clear on Delegation

Delegation can work differently in Agile environments. For new managers joining an Agile environment this can be confusing. Scrum is clear about the relative roles and responsibility of the PO, SM and Team. Jurgen Appelos “Delegation Poker” is good for any new manager, functional lead or team member joining an Agile environment.

What is the Role Of The Manager in Agile?  

As with delegation, being clear and discussing what the role is and what it is not in Agile is super important. Does it mean consulting the team but making the final decisions? Or is it about facilitating a high performing team and what does that look like? While a manager isn’t in the Scrum team in that role, sometimes in operations a manager may also do work in the team but take that hat off.

Be Sure to Explain Where You Are & How You Got Here 

Agile is a journey and if you are moving from a traditional to Agile environment where individuals are typically signed off on their work, to a more collaborative, team oriented process, it’s vital to factor this into your Agile transition plan.

It takes time and coaching and effort. And be aware that it’s going to take more than just or two sprints for your team(s) to find their groove. Because, in the end, Agile is far more than a process change – it’s a game-changer for the entire business.

Over a 6 – 12 month period I would view as the foundation layer, learning and making mistakes, things won’t be perfect – and it is really important to be able to tell the story of that journey and the changes that have happened.

Because without this any one new cannot appreciate or understand what has gone before, what you have learned and how you got to today. Your unpicking at scale a hundred years of management practices and notions of how work can be done.

Self-Managing Teams Don’t Just Happen   

I used to believe that teams would just self-manage to the level to what I expected them to. This was naive. A team can be engaged but may not able to self manage say to the level of dev team because of relevant levels of expertise. Outside of software development you get into to notions of relevancy. So being able to self manage to the level of capability of that team and be realistic about the level of coaching support and guidelines needed.

David Marquet showed us In “Turn the Ship Around” to give the team the keys to ship without a gradual release of delegation aligned to competency will result in confusion and failure.

Agile Is Not For Everyone  

Some peoples brains are not wired that way and despite your best efforts won’t change. Help them find something fulfilling satisfactory elsewhere.

Transition Will Cause Resistance

I believe you cannot manage change, you can only help navigate it. There are too many variables. Naturally is it not going to be all smooth sailing, your changing their world and long held belief systems. Some people will just plain not like it,

Agile Isn’t A Silver Bullet 

Agile is not magic. We can’t produce something from nothing or make other trade-offs go away.  You can’t expect to maintain the status quo AND improve. It’s simply not the “real world.” You cannot a team to become self-managing overnight. You might not see any improvement to performance quickly because your Agile programme aligns at a point of time to balance the longer term with the now. And then you’ll see results. The trick is knowing what point that is and ensuring alignment to that point,

To me Agile is all about embracing the uncertainty of change and learning how to use it to your advantage.

And becoming Agile means being open to possibilities and options.

Being Agile is understanding what innovation truly means in the same sense that an artist understands what “creativity” means.

I can explain the values, principles, practices, and dynamics of agile culture to someone, but I can’t tell them how to be innovative.

That’s something that has to come from within – the want to be truly great, to be better than you ever thought possible.

It’s uncomfortable, change.

And, through discomfort, we learn and grow.

Adventures in Agile – The One About The Queen With No Heart

  Queen of Hearts 2

Who’s been painting my roses red?

WHO’S BEEN PAINTING MY ROSES RED?

Who dares to taint

With vulgar paint

The royal flower bed?

For painting my roses red

Someone will lose his head.

Once upon a time there was a girl who was smart, who got things done. She was single minded in her pursuit of the results. She was focused. She seemed to have a perfect life and all the things she could ever want. But the higher up the corporate ladder she climbed, the more self-important she became and the lonelier and unhappier she was.

She was a brittle, one dimensional, self-centered monarch and nobody liked her. Like Lewis Carrolls character  from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that he pictured as a ‘blind fury’ she was quick to decree sentences at the slightest offense. She was the Queen of Hearts She was me some years ago – and she had no heart

I have been on my own road to Damascus. When Saul became the Apostle Paul, he said don’t be selfish, don’t try to impress others, be humble and think of others as better than yourself.

Paul was an Agile guy.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a leader and I love this example of the agile leadership heart set. Picture a rough country road leading through the wilderness to a river where a dozen soldiers are working hard to build a bridge with insufficient resources and manpower. It’s 1776 and the Revolutionary War is underway. An impressive looking man approaching on a fine stallion and asking the weary workers, “You don’t have enough men for the job, do you?” In reply, the lieutenant in charge states, “No, the men will need a lot more help if we are to finish the bridge on time.” “I see,” replies the man from his horse. “Why aren’t you helping the men?  I notice you’re just standing back watching them work.” “That, sir, is because I am an officer!” snaps the lieutenant. “I lead, I don’t do.” “Indeed,” says the mounted man. At this point he dismounts his horse, rolls up his sleeves and works under the hot sun with the men for hours. ‘Upon completion he remounts his horse and says to the lieutenant, “The next time you have too much work and not enough men, the next time you are too important or high ranking or proud to work, send for the commander-in chief and I will come again.” The distinguished man was General George Washington. The impression he left for servant leadership is timeless. And if you think of all the great inspirational leaders they are compassionate and selfless. They put the needs of the people who they serve ahead of themselves. Martin Luther King, Ghandi, Nelson Mandela…. They inspire you to follow Agile leadership is the ability to internally motivate people, through trust, to accomplish the teams higher purpose, goals and objectives.  The Agile leader is defined by security, integrity, selflessness, and compassion. As with command control, without these traits, followership is typically defined by necessity, external controls, or maybe fear, which only reduces the potential of both leader and follower. I am reminded of a function I went to a few years ago, I was excited because this was the first time I had ever been invited to an ‘executive’ event and the senior management team were going to be there.  After the speeches the executive huddled around in a closed circle only talking to each other, they dressed exactly the same and laughing at the same jokes, comparing sports cars and the best restaurants. They were much smaller than I thought they would be and I remember thinking – none of you are interested in people that work for you.   And I thought your not worthy of my followship. In Simon Sineks eloquent Why Leaders Eat Last he describes those leaders who aim to raise their own status simply so they can enjoy the perks themselves without fulfilling their responsibilities as leaders. While they may achieve alpha status and rise in the ranks, possess talents and strengths that could earmark them for alpha status, they only become leaders when they accept the responsibility to protect those in their care. Selfish and power hungry, intoxicated by the chemicals, they can forget that their responsibility as a leader is to their people. Sadly this describes many senior leadership teams in traditional organisations. The ‘people’ leader in such organisations stands out because this executive is liked by the people, and is often least popular with his or her peers. Leaders are the ones willing to look out for those to the left of them and those to the right of them. Life requires leadership. What is yours? What would your family and your team say about you? Perhaps the most important question is, what defines your character that communicates your value of people? The answer to that question is essential in your character and Agile leadership stand. It will determine the level of ‘motivated trust’ that people will give you in followership. As Oswald Sanders states: “True greatness, true leadership, is achieved not by reducing men to one’s service but in giving oneself in selfless service to them.”

Adventures In Agile – The One About It Being Hard

broken wings

Agile is a culture

Its not a product or a set of processes, it’s a mind-set and Michael Sahota writes about this comprehensively in his survival guide to agile transformation. Scrum he says is designed to be disruptive and introduces new roles, the Product Owner, the Scrum Master and the Team.

For a leadership team in the early stages of Agile transformation, the introduction of new concepts such as transparency, trust and collaboration can be emancipatory and emotional.

For some the early stages of the agile mindset shift it can feel like a transcendental experience, for me at least I spent a good 12 months firmly in this space.

I’d written about this in earlier articles as a consciousness awakening, I found others of the same ilk, some found me.

I can spot the difference because those that have made the shift are just different from those who haven’t. Perhaps it’s the transparency and collaboration factor, they seem to have a different energy, vibe and presence.

Now I am in privileged and humbled to be able to help others through this journey, while I am still on this journey myself.

It’s been described as an emotional roller coaster and in the very early stages of our journey the team likened it to being in an amusement park or a circus.

It’s magical, mysterious and powerful and right now it’s hard.

I think we’re all  facing the day to day reality that we are trying to change ourselves, how we work, our mindset and still operate within a larger organisation who are not Agile and that we must now operate in a dual culture.

We have all in our own ways opened our minds and have wholeheartedly embraced the change, we are getting better at inspecting and adapting everything we do, and we are moving through that really uncomfortable place where we are trying, succeeding and sometimes failing on the way to our goal.

But this agile transformation isn’t about us as a leadership team.

It’s about whom we have been entrusted to lead. Simon Sinek so eloquently describes this when he talks about why leadership matters. He says leaders set the tone and when a leader makes the choice to put the safety (feeling safe and a sense of belonging) and lives of the people inside the organisation first, so that the people remain and feel safe and feel like they belong.

So we are beginning to ask our people to help us rebuild an ecosystem and mindset which previously saw them not being trusted completely to get the job done, and where we did not create an inclusive environment that fostered trust, courage or transparency.

We are at the first stages of learning about servant leadership and what it might mean and it’s a natural partner with agile.

If we are no longer managers of people than who are we, what value do we bring?

But this isn’t about us

It’s about our people

Take these broken wings

Take these broken wings

And learn to fly again, learn to live so free

When we hear the voices sing

The book of love will open up and let us in

Take these broken wings

Adventures in Agile – The One About Courage

Alice 2

In my top drawer in my bedroom is an unopened black and white postcard; from time to time I reach in and look at the letters ‘Made in Aotearoa’ and put it back. This card will never be posted, for it symbolises great fortitude and courage.

I met Mathew one cold, wet afternoon. He was standing behind a small table outside Countdown, the type you can fold down and carry under your arm. It was winter and having left a senior role in technology to explore possibilities in HR, I was feeling despondent and isolated.

My idea of what HR could be (employee experience, agility) and recruiters idea of what it was (compliance, process) wasn’t meshing and I was doubting myself and my decision.

I watched Matthew despite the sleet, cheerfully greet people who didn’t acknowledge him, who averted their eyes, frowned and hurried on. It was as if he were invisible; I knew that feeling well; having worked my since I left Uni, and not having that daily routine, I was beginning to feel like an outsider and my heart ached for him.

I asked him what he was doing. He didn’t have to tell me (but he did) that he was no stranger to prison and gangs – the tear drop inked on his right cheek a giveaway. He had never learnt to read and write you see and was selling postcards to supplement his benefit so “I don’t do crime”. This was his job and day after day he stood there.

And what Mathew was doing was real courage and change. I felt ashamed

And then I got to thinking about some of the managerial behaviours I had seen constantly in previous lives at work (and yes me too).

You’ll be familiar with these; and the systems that support them, managers that focus on themselves and not others, their power bases, backing their peers and not their team when the going gets tough, treating their people as a means to an end – and not really caring about the people or their needs.

Scrape away at this and what you usually find is that people are concerned about:

  • Command control and/or patronizing management
  • Conformity
  • Poor information flows
  • Knowledge as power
  • Organizational silos and empire building

And this is Management 1.0

Steve Davies, in his article; Management 1.0, the Zero Hypotheses says the impact of this style and practice of management on organisations and employees are profound as they prevent the free flow of information, politicise decision making and repress dissent and diverse views.

We do commonly see  individuals in Management 2.0 which are the collaborative, people orientated behaviours trying hard but operating in a Management 1.0 ecosystem.

Having experienced this environment many times before my current role at Fisher & Paykel (and more about this fabulous company and its people later), having been immersed in collaboration via social media I now found the gap too wide.

In one such large but dispersed traditional corporate, in such hierarchy I felt like I’d landed on Mars and I could no longer function in Management 1.0 land.

I’m not the only one

Take the established and traditional organisation with Management 1.0 values and mash it up with a social media savy workforce with values (and expectations) centered on the democratization of information, non-political decision making, encouragement of dissent and the democratisation of innovation. What might you get?

The ones who are really entrenched will fiercely guard the status quo and you’ll see little of that crazy talk which is usually viewed as dissent and quickly divested of.  Those who are more embracing of change; you’ll see some tolerance of it and this will usually be in the digital space. And the other end of spectrum like Google and Spotify – that’s all you see.

And I think those traditional companies who won’t change will die. What they haven’t worked out is that their steadily falling share prices and loss of market position is due to a culture created by a Management 1.0 mindset in a world which has moved on to a fundamentally different proposition.

And I don’t think they even know it or can grasp it.

Because a new leadership paradigm is required in this world. And to change means you have to have courage to self reflect. You have to face yourself, turn yourself inside out

The significance of this cant be overemphasised. Steve Davies states this is more of a reinvention, a revolutionary mind-set shift is required.

“Looking at the various 2.0s through the lens of engagement across boundaries it is doubtful that reinvention is sufficient. Why? Because so much of the baggage associated with the concept of management, along with the organizational arrangements that support it, are a reflection of Management 1.0″

Work is about people, people are social beings, people need to feel engaged, be creative, innovative and productive not controlled and ‘managed’. I’ve talked about this before. It’s a simple premise but not one that’s been popular.

If all you have ever known is traditional management (and I’m not saying you are  Management 1.0!) dabbled in social collaboration platforms so haven’t experienced that deep mindset, but know inherently there has got to be a better way, how do you know what to change to?

How do you morph both professionally and personally into an agile leader – Management 3.0?

Right now this is where we are at with our agile journey. We have a shared mental model on what that agile transformation might feel like and we are all consciously working through our own previously held assumptions.

We are on a journey, we know roughly the destination, we don’t always know the route we’ll take because the path hasn’t been trodden before.

Scrum has already begun to change our concepts of team and what transparency means, it has also thrown the spotlight on our self-perception of our roles in relation to the team.

Several people outside of the team have commented on the extreme engagement they are observing.

And before my eyes I am seeing transformation on all levels; spades of managerial and personal courage from everyone including our GM,

When we think about great leaders – we often recall acts of courage. We all admire courage. Anyone who is doing what they are doing has got my respect and admiration

This is scary, but we go as a group and we leave no one behind.

In both Catholicism and Anglicanism, courage is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. In the eastern tradition the Tao Te Ching states that courage is derived from love (“ loving causes ability brave”) Courage (shauriya) also appear as the first of ten characteristics in the Hindu Manusmṛti,

Associations in popular culture between courage and masculinity has resulted in usages of synonymous terms such as “having balls“.

And so we begin our Adventures in Agile

To Sue, Wayne, Richard, Keith, Rudi, Christine, Melanie, Peter & Kelly – who have jumped down the rabbit hole – head first