Leadership is the Key – Agile 2017 Day 1

It’s Agile2017 time again!  Woohoo!.  Everyone from developers and scrum masters and lowly vendors to the “stalwarts” of the agile movement is here.  Over the next week, we will listen to speakers talking about principles, application of agility, tools, systems, and even the new shiny stuff that is all around.  But it tells me something about where we are headed as a “philosophy” when the first keynote speaker, David Marquet, doesn’t speak of principles, tools, processes, or practices, but instead speaks of “leadership.”

Leadership not Leaders

Leadership is not a group of people but rather it is 1) what we do each day to take responsibility for the work we do, 2) our attitude toward learning and improvement, and 3) our ability to use our skills in a way that best serves our colleagues and our end goal.  The word “lead” is derived from a german word that means “to set a plumb line;” meaning that leadership is all about demonstrating for those around us what the good way is.  In agile, we move leadership solely out of hands of those “in charge” and into everyone’s hands.  We ask and (sorry for the word) demand that individuals and teams lead.  So when we talk about leadership being the key, we don’t mean the managers, we mean building people to where they can be in possession of their own leadership!  David Marquet, a former Naval Submarine Commander and now speaker, talked about how he got out of the “giving orders business.”  He required that his entire crew be leaders in their thinking; he created an environment where people wanted to be leaders in their work and where to improve to get there!

Leading Leaders

When we take this leap to where leadership is now in the hands of those closest to the work, how we lead these individuals changes.  They are no longer resources that are to be consumed, they are not simply “red workers” (again see David Marquet’s work), and they are definitely not the bottom of the pyramid in the organizational chart.  They are now the people getting the work done, learning and knowing the best way to execute, and are the one’s who are driving the solutions!  They are now leaders! Leading these folks just became harder at the same time it became easier!  Our job, as leaders, moves from telling people what to do and now becomes focused on how we inspire, improve, and influence.  It will require that leaders in this new revolution learn new skills.

Leadership = Constant Improvement

In the book, The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership, the author speaks of how Toyota’s culture is built around continuous and constant improvement and how even Sr. Leaders are required to learn new methods and improve old ones.  In some cases at Toyota, leader’s growth was temporarily halted to return to the basics and learn a better way to do the simple things before moving up.  Other cases required that leaders be moved around to different teams to learn new ways of leading without having authority.  In all cases, leaders were expected to be able to provide an environment where everyone could grow and improve constantly.  I will say this – in order for us to challenge our team members, we must start by challenging our thoughts in how we lead!

And so…

This is how we kick off Agile 2017 – with a call to change the way we approach leadership, thinking, and work!  it is a great reminder that leadership is at the core of agility and that in order to move into a new way of working, radical leadership is required!

Look for more on the happenings of Agile 2017 soon!

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