Agile · Leadership

Influential leadership – a practiced art

Leaders always influence , do you?

You believe in ‘Do as I say’ OR ‘as I do’ mentality?

This is not a new phenomena, but as an individual who is or looking forward to  be in a leadership role must examine his way of thinking and attitude. Leadership is not only about managing but it’s a mind-set game.

You often find vague and vapid responses on what constitutes leadership, but

 “Leadership is intentional influence”. ~ Tim Tassopoulos, COO of Chik-fil-A

Becoming a leader is not a success as most leaders put a great invest of time into planning, crafting strategies, engaging with analyst but few realize the success or failure lies in influencing behaviors of other people who are working with them.  An important characteristic of an influential leader who believes in ‘as i do’ mentality rather a bossy style of ‘do as i say’.

“So much money has been thrown at the challenge of keeping good people, in the form of better pay, better perks and better training – when, in the end , turnover is mostly a manager/leadership  issue.”  ~ Marcus Buckingham

Let’s talk about in the context of agile , According to VersionOne 2011 Survey  , Barriers to agile adoption are:

  • 52% – Organizational Culture
  • 40% – Availability of personnel with right skills.
  • 39% – General resistance to change
  • 34% – Management support
  • 30% – Project complexity.

Three of the top five factors for agile failure are attributed towards culture and leadership issues and challenges. As a leader, it is crucial to make an effort to understand people of different cultures, ability to motivate them and facilitate change.

Below are few points which can be used as a parameters to help you evaluate yourself to identify your strengths and weaknesses as a leader.

3T’s (Trust, Transparency and Tooling)

Trusting your teams in getting job done is really important. Trust is all about respecting their estimates, plans, recommendations, motives, skills etc. As a leader you should provide guidance & advice but not dictate them and trust them to solve their own problems and issues. Your words, actions and body language need to align so that your team can trust you. Remember, Trusting team ispracticed art, so it is incredibly important to continuously enforce, encourage and remind yourself to trust the team to gain the trust. Get on the table with your team, have conversation as a team as well as one-to-one.

“How do you make team members trust each other?“ “You trust them first!” – Johanna Rothman at Agile 2008.

High transparency with common sense is as important and necessary to maintaining trust within your team members. Share as much information as you can and as soon as you can. Do they know what interests you?  what you care about and are passionate about? Sometimes you don’t need to share everything but when you share more, people will reciprocate and you will have better working relationships. Stephen Covey defined thirteen Behaviors that Foster & Increase Trust, and top 4 of them are Talk Straight, Create Transparency, Listen First and Extend Trust.

Don’t “Lead with” tools, infact lead with principles and people. It’s all about team, it’s all about people, so don’t let tools become your collaboration platform. Put less focus on reporting and tools but let your teams lead the way. This is even more important if you are working with remote teams.

Being Agile Vs Doing Agile

Agile is all about community and mindset. It’s a way of thinking and approaching work when there is no clear end-state and/or when the end-state is changing or evolving frequently. As a leader,  you have to be “being agile” rather “doing agile”. Unfortunately, today a lot of people have missed this whole that becoming Agile is really about changing one’s mindset, rather a process or methodology.

There is a key difference between the two. Doing Agile is more focused towards agile ceremonies and techniques whereas Being Agile is focused towards team building, leadership, mindset and behaviors. Not everyone is the same, you have to deal with different organizational & individual cultures and  behaviors, therefore you have to adopt new things and be innovative.

Observing team at standups, planning and reviews and coach their behaviors. Let them move towards team based recognition and performance evaluation.  There is a japanese concept called Shu-Ha-Ri, which describes stages from learning to becoming a master. In short, It’s a 3 staged process in which you start with (Shu)follow the rules and discipline yourself exactly with the rules and norms, then (Ha) break the rule where you make innovation and can deviate from the norms, and finally (Ri) be the rule where you build your own rules.  A true leader can influence the team from doing to being agile.

Always Remembering ….. the TEAM !!!

The team is all the people around you who is directly or indirectly involved with whatever you do. Similarly within team it’s important to shift your focus on team rather individual efforts. Even shift your rewards to team rewards rather individual and let them reward itself as a team. It’s always better to evaluate as a team instead of individual so that the focus and goal remains the same for the team and organization, thus boosting the overall organization productivity. It’s not necessarily to change your HR evaluation process completely at once, but some consideration in this regard will definitely help your organizations to boost team performances.

You should analyse, observe and discuss continuously with individuals about their goals and motives so that you can effectively align those with your team and organizational goals, and advise and coach where necessary in case of conflicts.

Change you conversation language too to refer individual, for example. don’t say like

  • why aren’t developers coding right now?
  • what are testers doing right now?

Stop referring to developers vs testers. Hold the team accountable to results and commitments. Most of the time not everyone on the team is comfortable with this agile approach, yet they need to get on board.

Fostering FUN & innovation

Just don’t allow your team to be “too serious”. You should be “playful’ as a leader and find ‘partners’ in your teams that identify opportunities for having fun. These fun activities or event build up team chemistry,  increases collaboration and comfort level. Take breaks , plan team building activities , and share some practical jokes. Try to have positive people with “can do” attitude, this is really important attribute despite with highly skilled technical person.

Google gives its employees 20% time to innovation. Many other big giants like amazon, atlassian doing the same. Give them time to think and discuss what interests them.  Demarco says about Slack time that ‘ Slack is the degree of freedom in a company that allows it to change. Allowing people room to breathe, increase effectiveness and recreate themselves.‘

Lastly , here are some of the most common major qualities an agile leader should posses:

  • Passion for learning
  • Focus on Developing people
  • Having fun and very energized
  • Strong self-belief, coupled with humanity and humility
  • Clear standard of ethics and integrity, openness and honesty
  • Positive attitude at all times and an innate ability to be diplomatic in any circumstances

“The key to successful leadership TODAY is influence, not authority.” – kenneth blanchard.

“Leadership is not about titles, positions or flowcharts. It’s about one life influencing other. “ ~ John C Maxwell

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