November 11, 2015

5 "Secrets" of a Great Agile Leader

Are you considered an authoritative "leader" in your organization? Do you spend your day at the top of the tower or in the trenches? Real Agile leaders abandon the top of the tower and thoughtfully empower an organization from the trenches, which fuels the connections that lead to high-performing Agility. Let's learn more about how you can make this happen in your organization.

In my travels, I am baffled by the number of large organizations that still have mass cube farms, important-people corner offices, and special conference rooms that can only be reserved for 'leadership'. However, I am starting to see more companies break these barriers and create open & collaborative workspaces that are incredibly productive and full of synergy. These workspaces hold even more potential when senior leaders work and interact in the same space with everyone else.

When leaders 'walk the talk' and embody a sense of community, creativity, powerful questioning, compassion and other skills & traits of great leadership, it fuels the connections that bring out the best in everyone - and this leads to a higher level of *real* Scrum in an organization.

What role can you play in fueling these connections? What can you do now to set the stage for a higher-performing workplace?

1. Move out of your corner office.

If you set up camp close to the trenches, you become approachable to others. If your desk has the same configuration as everyone else, then others will recognize that they are first-class citizens in the organization - we're all in this together. Some of the best ideas in your organization surface when you're approachable, and you need these ideas to come forth in order to boost your own leadership creativity and spark innovation in your space. An "open door policy" to a fancy, windowed corner office is not as open as you might think. What needs to change to make this happen?

2. Stop referring to people as "resources".

The marketplace is as turbulent and complex as ever. To increase your organizational Agility and gain a competitive advantage, you have to inject the fuel that powers high-performing Teams across your company. People are human beings in your organization that bring a mix of skills, intelligence, creativity, discipline and focus to your workplace. Fixing this one word in your leadership vocabulary will make an enormous difference in how others connect with you. You still need resources though, so you don't eliminate the word - just change HOW you use it. Tables, chairs and data projectors are resources that are used daily in high-performing workplaces. People are people.

3. Discover what's important to others.
You can't lead those you do not understand.

Not everyone thinks the same way you do. For example, I am natively-wired as a passionate person and am obsessed with the pursuit of high performance, but just because that's important to me doesn't mean that it's important to others that I serve. To connect with others, you have to go deeper and actually learn about the amazing people that you serve.

Many years ago, I worked with an inspiring and influential leader who had the ability to connect with every single person in the organization at a deep level. As he mentored me on leadership, he unveiled a large "planning grid" in an Excel spreadsheet -- each cell in the grid represented a consultant in a 400+ person line of business. He would ask me to point at any one cell in the grid, then he would proceed to talk about that one individual with some depth - personal motivators, strengths & opportunities, hobbies outside of the workplace, etc. He knew everyone and had a special gift to motivate and influence individuals and Teams to new heights.

4. Stop "discussing" organizational issues and start fixing them.

The most difficult of organizational issues are tough to fix, but just because they're tough doesn't mean that they CAN'T be fixed. If others watch you take ownership of a difficult organizational issue and actually fix it, you will fuel deeper connections between you and others. You will also establish new connections as people choose to follow you vs. report to you. One additional benefit - as organizational issues get fixed, it removes barriers that unleash your Teams to pursue higher levels of performance.

5. Stop "managing" and start enabling.

Ok, so you've moved out of your corner office and now sit within proximity of the Teams. Be careful though, because if you're assuming the stance of a controlling manager, then self-organizing Teams will behave differently when you're around (usually by going silent, but sometimes with verbal attacks). As an Agile Leader, you manage in a very different way - it's through a supportive stance that learns about the work, the struggles, and the celebrations so you can mentor and enable the people around you toward a high level of performance. In fact, you are no longer responsible for the delivery of projects; that responsibility lives within the small, self-organizing Agile Teams that are doing the actual value-creation work. You're now the thoughtful leader who is responsible for creating an environment that allows Agile Teams to deliver and flourish.

In Closing

As we close, I offer this question for reflection:
What does the provocative title of this post really mean? Should there be 'secrets' in an Agile organization?

Which 1 of these "not so secret" suggestions resonates with you most? Try it and let me know how it improves your leadership ability, your Teams and your Organizational Agility.