There are four leadership concepts that can double the chances that your agile transformation will be effective. They are:

  1.   Behavior – The values you exhibit through behavior matter more than those you only espouse in words.
  2.    Goal – Goals define where the transformation is going.  
  1.    Self-Awareness – Agile leaders must be self-aware. Self-awareness is having a clear perception of your personality, including strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs, motivation, and emotions. Building on the understanding of self allows a leader to understand other people. Self-awareness is a first step for leaders to put their own baggage aside and to support others.  Change in the workplace is difficult. Being good at conflict management and exposing issues is important for leadership when leading change, but if a leader not good at understanding his or her own cognitive and emotional biases it will be difficult for the wannabe leader to connect with those around him or her and for others to follow. The linkage between self-awareness and transformational leadership is not merely pop psychology.  In recent years the academic literature has empirically established the relationship between self-awareness and transformational leadership.

One of the clear traps Agile leaders or aspiring Agile leaders face is that it is easy to believe in the transformation you are leading so much that you forget that not everyone thinks the same way you do.  Even if those around you believe in the same ultimate goal, their thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and motivation will be different.  As a leader, you must be able to untangle your ego and emotions from those you seek to lead.

How a leader acts (behavior) is an outsized attribute of Agile leadership.  However, nearly as important is that an Agile leader must understand how his/her behavior affects others. That knowledge provides a feedback loop.  

  1.      Measurement – The only way to know whether any transformation works and CONTINUES to work is to measure both what is being delivered by the overall system and the behaviors that deliver those outputs. An Agile leader will approach measurement from a systems-thinking point of view.  Delivery of value typically requires a complex set of interlocking systems. An Agile leader has to have the pulse of both the overall system, as well as an understanding at a more finite level.  For example, have you ever observed a team spend time researching, prototyping, piloting, and then implementing a change to improve a product’s delivery rate, only to find that the process change yields little to no big picture impact? The second or third time you make this observation it drives the point home that optimizing steps within a system doesn’t always translate into better overall performance.  Agile leaders take a more holistic path that prioritizes and validates the flow of work in which the output and the path to delivery are interlinked.  

Goals establish where the leader is going.  As Lewis Carroll stated, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” Measurement is the only mechanism to know whether we are progressing towards the goal(s).  A self-aware leader needs empirical feedback or they could fall prey to cognitive biases and logical fallacies.

These four cornerstone attributes are required to deliver the transformational leadership needed for Agile to be effective.  Agile is an empirical process based on transparency, inspection, and adaptation.  Defining the behaviors needed to deliver specific goals coupled with the feedback of measurement and the self-awareness to interpret how the journey is impacting those around you translates leadership into an empirical process which is at the heart of Agile.

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