Leadership provides vision and the motivation needed to push the boundaries, change direction and challenge the status quo.  Each leader takes a different path; therefore, there is a myriad of leadership (and leadership’s alter ego: management) styles, however, there are three leadership archetypes typically seen in Agile teams.  They are:

  1. Situationally Emergent Leadership
  2. Leadership Gravity Wells
  3. Consensus Decision-Making

One of the central tenets of Agile is that teams self-manage and self-organize. Embracing this type of principle leads to situationally emergent leadership. The person that can make the most sense in a situation takes the reins of leadership. For example, if a team was faced with a particularly sticky testing problem that was blocking progress, a person with testing acumen might step to the fore and lead the team to a solution. As the situation of scenario changes, a new person takes the mantle of leader, rather than being dictated by the hierarchy.  

In many teams, leadership tends to gravitate to a single individual. Individual leaders can follow many specific patterns from servant leaders to hierarchically appointed leaders.  Leadership invested in a single individual is neither good or bad.  This type of leadership structure is often valued higher in the organizational hierarchy.   Examples of the leaders at the heart of the leadership gravity well abound and include Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Ross Perot and Jack Walsh. (Note: many religions provide examples of servant leaders sitting at the center of a leadership structure.) 

The third leadership type, consensus decision-making, might more accurately be viewed as leadership diffusion.  The team deliberates, weighs pros and cons, requests information and then decides on a course of action.  Consensus-decision making can be valuable for building a broad coalition or wrestling with issues and ideas that are cross-functional or have no natural precedent.  The downside is that consensus leadership diffuses responsibility, can obscure accountability and is difficult to use in a dynamic environment where speed matters.  For example, consensus management would be a disadvantage when executing a football or fútbol play.

All teams will embrace some form of leadership.  Different teams and different situations will lead to different types of leaders patterns.  There is no single leadership pattern that is perfect and stable, if for no other reason than the fact that humans are part of the equation.  A pattern I have seen at the team level is that teams that embrace the situational leadership can begin to over rely on an individual.  The individual then begins to crave the attention (leadership is a form of attention and power) generating a leadership gravity well.  At some point the person fails or moves on, leaving the team without a leadership pattern.  These teams fall back on consensus leadership.  The cycle of transformation is then primed to begin again.  Leadership at the top of the organization is critical to breaking the cycle.  

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