Agile Pondering: Who leads an agile team?

On Saturday, April 11, I ran a PMI Mile Hi workshop I called “Agile Leadership is Overrated – Isn’t It?”  The workshop was built on the premise that managers are not necessarily leaders, and management is not the same as leadership.  I even used dictionary definitions of manager, leader, management and leadership to make my case!  If you examine the definitions for yourself you will find it disturbing.  Management implying command and control, while leadership implies guidance and help.  This makes it so clear leadership is what is needed on agile teams, not management.  But how exactly is that done?

Very carefully!  No, not really.  If you give it more than just a few seconds of thought it will become obvious self-organizing teams also self-select leaders based on the situation!  In other words, everyone on agile teams act in the role of leader at some point during the creation of a product.  As I said during the PMI workshop – this changes everything!  It is no longer sufficient to mentor people in how to do their jobs well and how to use the different practices which are part of the agile process.  It is now vitally important to train people to be leaders as well.  Not everyone can make the transition, just like not everyone is capable of writing certain types of code.  But the more people that can be leaders, the more cross-functional the team becomes.  Just as shared code ownership can be powerful in agile, the ability to share leadership can be equally valuable.

Because the workshop went so well I’m making a PDF of the slides available.  The setup is basically done up to page 21.  After page 21 is where the real work begins.  If you want to improve as a leader, spend an hour doing the big exercise which is on pages 21 through 27.  Identify your weak areas and create an action plan to get better.  Identify your strengths and how you would help others who are weak on those areas.  Most importantly, identify two individuals you want to help become better leaders and create a plan to make it happen.  In a group setting it was possible to share some of the tips with each other, which is difficult to do on your own.  If you want to post some of your tips in a comment, please do.  I love getting new ideas for how to improve.  If you need help, post a comment and ask!  I should point out I ended the workshop by telling everyone they could become better leaders by using two common words much more often – “Thank you!”  Saying it can be difficult sometimes.  Saying it more often is one of the best signs someone is a true leader!

The software industry has far too many managers and not nearly enough leaders.  Let’s start a revolution by concentrating on leadership skills not management skills.  Let’s empower people to be successful rather than managing them so they don’t stray off of a narrow (and boring) path.  Let’s be good stewards of our corporate resources by using them to maximum effectiveness rather than managing with an eye toward maximum (and unreachable) utilization!  Let’s remember to say thank you more often.

Taking my own advice – thank you for taking the time to read this!  Until next time I’ll be helping organizations grow leaders who in turn will end up Making Agile a Reality™ by concentrating on success rather than just what metrics and process drawings tell them!

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  1. Great post and so ironic. I started my site about agile a little while ago but then I realized that many of my articles were about leadership. So I actually changed the whole topic of my site to be about leadership instead. Leadership matters, even more than the process used. Management is overrated.