Agile Leadership Makes a Difference

agile leadership Rocket Nine Agile Scrum methodology Certification Class Agile Leadership Makes a Difference

Wow, I almost got sucked in….

Now that Agile 2015 is here, I was looking through the self-promotion of talks to see what was interesting to me. I was struck by one about Human

Systems Dynamics. And for a moment, I was captivated by all the models (I’m a models guy), and the learner in me wanted to file away all the information I could.

Until I realized something.

This won’t make a bit of difference on agility in Southern California.

Okay, that’s an overstatement. It won’t make a difference with the companies we’re working with,  who are struggling to adopt agile, raise up agile leadership, and go through their transformation.

What does make a difference, from what I’ve seen, is agile leadership winning over the hearts and minds of a few key people (by faith at some level, because they haven’t seen results at the beginning) to not only support the effort, but get in the mud with you, alongside you.

Life Experience and History

Think about it. When you changed significantly at points in your life, how did it happen? Were there people involved? Was there a moment when it clicked? Throughout history, we’ve seen change spread, not through information, but through people, especially influential and effective change agents sparking a catalytic event with a group either ready for change or tapping a compelling, shared vision (or both). Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Lech Walesa, Upton Sinclair, Joan of Arc, Cesar Chavez, William Wilberforce. In Simon Sinek’s great TED talk, he says, “Martin Luther King said, “I have a dream,” not “I have a plan!”

But that impact wasn’t about them – it was about the vision. Jim Collins’ celebrated work Good to Great talks of Level Five Leaders as a duality of fierce resolve and humility. Collins’ writes, “Throughout our interviews with such executives, we were struck by the way they talked about themselves—or rather, didn’t talk about themselves. They’d go on and on about the company and the contributions of other executives, but they would instinctively deflect discussion about their own role. When pressed to talk about themselves, they’d say things like, “I hope I’m not sounding like a big shot,” or “I don’t think I can take much credit for what happened. We were blessed with marvelous people.” One Level 5 leader even asserted, “There are a lot of people in this company who could do my job better than I do.”

So, although learning is fine – “How to apply TOC & XP to your retrospectives,” or “Why Scrum/SAFe/lean/XP is wrong/right/missing something,” perhaps we’re missing something more important.

Is there a galvanizing vision we’re sold out for?

Imagine that the March on Washington was, instead, just a series of hotel room talks (selected by a committee, of course) at the mega conference HumanRights1963? Or who can forget India’s SaltConf1930 (held at a “posh casino”)?

They changed the world. We say we’re changing the world. But are we that passionate?

A Recent Example of Agile Leadership

Regardless of your opinion of SAFe, is that Scaled Agile met a market demand for training and guidance around scaling that the Scrum Alliance could have, had it not been for all the differing opinions but no clear vision or sense of urgency. I’d say the popularity of SAFe put a little heat in the seat for the Scrum Alliance. And does anyone recall the sudden appearance of the ACP after PMI’s leadership was at the Orlando Scrum Gathering and saw all the PMP’s in attendance?

Maybe we don’t have passion because we don’t have personal clarity. Let’s sit out a session at the conference and look in the mirror (a great tool for coaches) and confirm our presuppositions:

  • Who or what is at the center? Me? Others? The vision? Something else?
  • How much are you willing to suffer for that?
  • What holds me back or gets in the way of being the most effective?
  • What does servant leadership look like to me?
  • Are there relationships around me that could be improved? How?
  • How do I respond when something gets in the way of attaining my goal?
  • With that clarity, go inspire and pour into and develop those around you, and watch the multiplier effect.

Diminishers vs. Multipliers

Per author Liz Wizeman, one type of leader:

…drains intelligence, energy, and capability from the people around them and needs to be the smartest person in the room. These are the idea killers, the energy sappers, the Diminishers of talent and capability.

On the other side of the spectrum are leaders who use their intelligence to amplify the smarts and capabilities of the people around them. When these leaders walk into a room, light bulbs go on; ideas flow and problems get solved. These are the leaders who inspire others to stretch themselves and surpass expectations. These leaders use their smarts to make everyone around them smarter and more capable. These leaders are Multipliers.

Agile Leadership Embodies Generosity

One example of agile leadership that comes to mind is how Mike Cottmeyer gives away so much information. At times I’m thinking, “Mike, what are you DOING? Someone’s going to take all those ideas and insights and use them perhaps as a competitor to Leading Agile!” But maybe that’s part of why they’re successful. I admire his generosity, have personally benefitted, and now share his ideas in my CSM and CSPO classes. My previous boss and mentor, George Schlitz still takes time to give me feedback. And I could list many others.

I was talking to a wonderful leader at another top agile coaching company today, and he commented, “I always thought the agile community would collaborate more.” Sad. And I agreed. I have to admit, I get caught up in my business and my challenges, too, and don’t take the time and prioritize clarifying the vision, serving and developing others, and giving it away. But maybe if we all stopped and took a week for that, rather than more information…even if we each moved the needle only degree, we could truly change the world.


If you’d like to invite Scott Dunn to speak on Agile Leadership or Strength-based Teams, please Contact Us.

If you are looking for an Agile Leadership course, or private agile training, please reach out to us at Rocket Nine Solutions.

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