Leading People While Managing Work

If your actions inspire others...

If your actions inspire others…

A short time ago, this article “10 Things Extraordinary Bosses Give Employees – Good bosses care about getting important things done. Exceptional bosses care about their people,” caught my attention like nothing has in a long while. Reading through the list in the article I realized, these are not just the traits of an extraordinary boss but those found in an effective and empowering Agile leader.

The article brings to the fore the concepts of empowerment, input, connection, and purpose, all important elements in building an environment for Agile success. When you go through the long and often challenging process of finding talented and experienced employees, why would you hobble them by not allowing them to do the job we hire them to do or the expertise that we listed as vital in the position description? In Agile, engaging the expertise of those you work with to determine the “best how” to get the work done, provides a level of connection and ownership for the work that a to-do list never will.

When it comes to true and sustainable Agile success, you need a leader not a manager, a definer of vision not a checklist supervisor, an empowering agent not a command and control micro-manager. Setting the tone for the organization and culture is the first responsibility of an Agile leader because Agile transformations are not just about the processes teams use to get their work done or how that success is measured, it is about the glue – the standards and expectations set for respecting how Agile works. It is an environment created so that all members of the company know that when the work is in progress, “respecting the iteration” is something that happens at all levels. Agile leadership does not just happen, it has to be nurtured and developed and while some say it is costly, that upfront time cost pays dividends in the level of trust, respect and belief it garners from those you work with and will even be reflected in bottom-line. And to quote a well-known credit card tag line – it is “Priceless.”

Why does it matter?

If you have worked with a micro-manager or someone who is looking over your shoulder so often that every shift of air makes you pause because they might be coming back to interrupt you again, you are well aware of the cost of those interruptions. The work that does not get done, the great ideas that get lost, the worry that comes along with that visit – especially when that visitor is your boss, and how you can never “just return” to where you were mentally or physically in the work you were doing. Over the length of a project the amount of time and productivity that can be lost to “acts of randomness” and sudden visits to find out “what you are working on” are very costly. Think about changing your style of working and move from managing to leading people. Manage the work the people do, not the people doing the work.

Many of us who have gone to business school or grew through the ranks of corporate management positions were weaned on a command and control way of thinking and working when it comes to running the business. When “command and control” is the standard of the day, you smoother elements that contribute to sustained Agile success – empowerment, trust, respect and purpose. So how can you let go of that need to have your fingers in every pie and yet still know what is going on with your team and your project? Take the time to become more aware of the things that happen around you without you doing or saying anything, things that happen because of the title you hold or the reporting relationship you have to those around you and not because you said it was “right thing to do.” Often referred to as the “invisible gun effect” (see Is My Boss On The Scrum Team? or do a web search for “scrum invisible gun”), just the presence of someone in a power position can alter how individuals and team act or respond causing levels of empowerment and ownership to diminish at a time when you are trying to encourage it to grow. Be aware of the invisible gun in your pocket and use its presence wisely.

Letting go of the misguided premise that the only way to “get your way” is to be in command and maintain control of every aspect is the first best step to becoming an extraordinary Agile leader.

Be consistent and clear in your communication

Consistency in your message, your process and your goals allows the team to both better project and predict how new information will impact changes in the project priorities. When there is honest and open communication about what is going on with the business and the project, the team can regularly course correct on a daily and even hourly basis as the work progresses. It means that things never get far off course and it is easy to adjust back to the vision path when needed. I had one of my teams tell me that in being consistent in the message and priorities it means that 9 times out of 10 they knew which direction to go without asking me directly but that 10th time is usually the one time I had new information I had not be able to share with them yet.

One of the analogies I like to use, is that as a leader, you need to be clear in your vision and goals but remember that in a 24 hour day, a large portion of it is dark; if the team knows the end goal and priorities with clarity and consistency, even when you are out of the office or they encounter obstacles along the way but cannot quickly get guidance, the team will know how to keep things on track with only small deviations. Decisions in that darkness may result in issues but they will only have a minor impact on your momentum!

Leadership is Vision

Leadership is Vision

Get to know your team

Contrary to the saying “There is no ‘I’ in team” there are a lot of them – they are the individuals – the individuals who come together to create a team. To build a team that can grow, sustain itself over time, you need to know who ,makes up that team – goals, passions, bad habits, pet peeves, their family and their sweet tooth (if they have one) – all give insight to help you to understand and encourage them toward a team and collaborative mindset. You need to encourage individuals to get to know the others on the team, by doing so, they learn each others strengths, weaknesses, when they have a bad day, and allow those connections to become the threads that support and strengthen this working unit. These individuals become the foundation of your project, building and sharing their expertise, in their discipline by maintaining the standards and processes they have created, ensuring the message of teamwork and collaboration are part of their work. Learning who you work with makes it much easier to learn the best ways to work with them and lead them… and just as a side note, leading is more powerful when done alongside your team, not in front.

Allow yourself to be a leader of people instead of a manager opens a team and the project up to more options, opportunities and awareness of what the right and wrong decisions are, thus allowing the project to move forward in a much more predictable and focused way. It also opens up opportunities for you to truly lead with the trust and expertise of your team supporting you as you explored the unknowns ahead.

Set the vision and empower the team to get you to that goal.

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