Frequently when I see discussions of Agile Leadership, I have mixed feelings. Although I believe the intent of these discussions are focused on how to make projects and teams better, I do have problems where we immediately create two classes of agile practitioners: Agile Leaders and the rest. To me, it just didn’t seem right.
I have had some great discussions recently on what an Agile leader is and what makes a great leader. Unlike stereotypical leaders, Agile leaders are not expected to make all the decisions and define the vision for the team. Those responsibilities belong in a more standard command and control project structure. So what then is an Agile leader? What do they do?
I reviewed the people who I believe are exemplary leaders. They were from a variety of sources:
- Wadood Ibrahim – Protegra
- David Angus – Chamber of Commerce
- Steve Yzerman - NHL Centreman
- Ray Lweis – NFL Linebacker
- Neil DeGrasse Tyson – Astrophysicist
- to name but a few…
My opinion of an Agile Leader and leaders in general are summed in three simple statements:
- Honest care and concern for all team members and clients (the Heart)
- Relentless effort to increase the value to the client and team members (the Mind)
- Relentless hunger to learn and improve. (The Soul)
Honest care and concern for all team members and clients
One of my favourite leadership quotes is:
“Before people care how much you know, they need to know how much you care”
I must admit I do not know whose quote it is, but I believe it captures the heart of leadership. Before anybody will consider following you, they must trust you. And to trust you, they must understand that you honestly have care and concern for their opinions and well-being. Can you direct people without this trust? Sure you can, but we call these people managers instead of leaders. These are people who direct by position instead of leading by trust.
Relentless effort to increase the value to the client and team members (the Mind)
Great leaders I have worked with all share this relentless effort and work ethic to make the team and project the best that it can be. The video below from Ray Lewis shows the effort level that defines a leader:
Great leaders are able to relentlessly improve the value to the client and team members without making those decisions for the client and the team members. This is an important distinction to make. The leader can not make the decisions for the client and team members and expect them to follow. Great leaders have exceptional influencing skills, but also believe that the client and team have the ultimate decision on what value is and what improvements make sense. Great leaders do not get caught up in making improvements themselves, rather they focus on the facilitation with the team and client to make improvements.
Relentless hunger to learn and improve
Great leaders have an open mind to all new ideas. They seek on new ideas and concepts. They seek to understand before commenting. They honestly believe that none of us is as smart as all of us.
One anecdote I love that illustrates this point is about Ray Lewis. Ray Lewis had just learned that Mike Singletary (former Bear’s linebacker) was the new defensive co-ordinator for the Baltimore Ravens. I believe Ray Lewis had been in the league for over 5 years and at this point and had already made the Pro Bowl and possibly already won a Super Bowl. The first day Mike Singletary showed up for work, Ray Lewis was in his office at 6:00 am asking him to teach him. That demonstrates the hunger for improvement and leading that true leaders have better than any other anecdote or quotes I have heard. I can imagine the impact this had on the team’s other players when they heard of this hunger to learn.
I believe Agile Leaders and Leadership have the three characteristics of Care for the team, Effort to improve, and hunger to Learn. All the people I believe to be great leaders share these characteristics. In retrospect, these characteristics don’t define great leadership – just great team mates. Maybe that is all great leaders are? – Thought for another day…