H ere are some of the themes (or essence) on ‘leadership’ and ‘agile-mindset’ that Jude and I are evolving. In many ways there is little to differentiate the two. This is part two of an article, following our Business agility presentation. The first article looks at some of the drivers, that are requiring businesses to change leadership models and structuring. See comments for links.
To those already in Agile, some of this may not be ground shaking, but perhaps reinforcement of what we know …our values and principles. To you, we would really appreciate feedback, so please add to the conversation in the comments below.
We are increasingly referring to ‘leadership’ over that of ‘leader’. I think this better represents the ‘skills’ now required by organisations. Leader denotes a person, often at the top of an organisational pyramid, and not something that reflects the network, or hyper-matrix structure that is emerging. It also denotes a certain arrogance associated with people positioning as experts …a term which we feel is becoming increasingly obsolete. We now live in an era where things are super connected, and ‘too big to know’.
Our emphasis, in using leadership as a term, is making it something that everyone recognises they are responsible for. It also recognises the value ‘we collectively’ bring to the table. Not needing to ask for permission. Taking action and responsibility, especially when picking ourselves up from failure …learning, and moving forward. These concepts are far from the traditional definition that leans more toward, authority, power, control and unfortunately blame.
Shaper: We take the view that agile leaders must be comfortable with complexity and uncertainty, and have an ability to shape the environment through their understanding of the wider network and the power of its relationships. They have ability to influence and ‘shape’ the required outcome.
Outcome focused: Leadership uses strategic intent to communicate a clear understanding of what needs to happen and why, rather than to tell people what to do and how to do it. They give people purpose, and groups the responsibility to figure out how to organise their own work and carry it out.
Experimental: agile leadership values experimentation, and experiments with well thought out hypothesis (success metric) and designed to provide feedback in the shortest time possible. This feedback is used in strategic decision making.
Planning: Detailed planning occurs down the chain, not at the top. This allows people ‘on the ground’ to react quickly to change and take opportunities.
Expertise: The new leadership recognise that they need not be the expert, but their greatest expertise is their ability to ‘leverage the network (…or the room – shout-out to David Weinberger: Too Big to Know). In a sense, expertise is more about creating the space (or environment), and then facilitating or enabling action, by allowing the right people and ‘conversations’ to direct and prioritise towards outcomes.
Collaborative: They recognise that work needs to be collaborative, and focused on delivering outcomes quickly. This involves a willingness (or bravery) to share, plus skills like deep listening, and using validated feedback to guide decision-making.
Decision-making: Decisions are based on evidence (knowledge) gained from experiments and fast feedback. Traditional models often made decisions formed from guesswork, based on little evidence, through analysis, focus groups, or the opinion from the highest paid person in the room.
Complexity: Agile leadership values simplicity, but know the difference between smart-simple and stupid-simple. They understand that making things simple requires the full understanding of complexity that makes it up. Once this is done complexity and risk can then be chunked down into manageable, achievable pieces. Whereas stupid-simple errs in favour of just making things easy. Smart-simple is not easy.
Risk: Agile leadership knows that the best way manage risk is to manage the unknown. Traditional approaches to this was to introduce complexity at the early stages of design, through analysis and detailed planning, where the known was revealed only at the final stage. The agile approach is to experiment quickly, moving complexity to areas like software automation, to aid speed and accuracy of hypothesis testing.
Visible: That visibility helps motivate people and helps keep people focused on the most important issues. It cuts down on meetings and the need for briefings, as it allows everyone to know, quickly, what needs to be done, and the progress of work. It also allows a more creative approach to solving complex problems and managing big and often dynamic projects.
Engagement: They recognise that when people work collaboratively and in a visual way, that engagement is embedded in the process. This cuts down the overhead of requiring additional communication or time wasted in meetings to steer work, motivate people, or embed change.
Alignment: In order to embed the change, required for an agile organisation, the agile leadership focus will be in supporting the alignment necessary to maximise success. This may require changes in management practice, success metrics and KPI’s. All areas of the business including accounting and budgeting, HR and other systems will require re-alignment.
Culture: That culture is dynamic, and should always be focused on customer driven outcomes. That in an agile organisation, culture, like engagement, is embedded in the framework. The key to enabling the right culture to emerge is a focus on core agile principles such as continuous learning and improvement by experimenting quickly, valuing contributions, and the support for success of others.
Distributed: Agile leadership is distributed through the system. New leaders are easy to recognise because they are often the people who put their hands up, are accountable and take responsibility for outcomes. They understand the network view of the world, where they fit in, and how to leverage it.