In the traditional leadership model, organizational leaders ask “Why has something happened?” Today, the question has often become “How can I help you succeed?” This dramatic shift has paralleled Agile becoming a de-facto way of working, and it underscores how leadership skills must change.
Becoming an agile leader essentially requires leaders to retrain themselves, a long and hard journey with its own learning curve. Leaders will slip, maybe even slip back into the old modes during crunch times. But as long as one understands where and why things went wrong, and then takes corrective actions, the change mechanism continues. Self-reflection and the intent to change is critical in this journey.
Recently, I appeared on a podcast to share some of the lessons learned during my journey to becoming an Agile leader. You can listen to that podcast here:
In the meantime, here are some of the small steps people can take now on their journey to become a better Agile leader.
- Create psychological safety for teams. Establish an environment in which teams feel comfortable to open up and share their problems and failures without fear of punitive action.
- Be mindful of the words you use. What we say is a reflection of how and what we feel and think.
- Understand that non-verbal communication and gestures can have unintended consequences. Design your strategies so that your teams know exactly what you intend to communicate. It’s important to be explicit about the culture you wish to create.
- Build a hierarchy of competence, not authority. The senior person need not have the answers to every question. Respect knowledge and expertise as compared to positional hierarchy.
- Focus on organizational skill-building. Teach technical and behavioral skills (eg. team work). Make competency development programs available for mid to senior managers as well, because they should be able to manage engineering (vs managing engineers).
- Reward and recognize people who have up-skilled themselves. Build a cross-functional team with multiple competencies in the team rather a single individual having all the competencies.
- Become a servant leader. This does come with paradoxes that require constant balance:
- Crediting success to teams while owning failures
- Being right enough to say you are wrong, yet accepting mistakes and apologizing
- Being smart enough to admit when you don’t know the answer
- Remaining busy, but not so busy that you can’t listen
- Being compassionate enough to be disciplined, and holding the team accountable for its commitments