Leaders and Followers

When adopting any method or framework (e.g. Scrum, lean, orTameFlow), organizations need a leader that believes in both the journey and the destination. The recent thread on enlightened self-interest and enlightened leaders cast doubt on how much enlightenment is really going around.  Whether a leader is enlightened or just seems that way because they are on the right side on an issue we are passionate about is less important than studying how they behave. There are five attributes of a leader that impact the direction and adoption of change. They are:

  1. Great Vision: A leader will have a vision that uplifts and engages those around them. The vision needs to be both specific and broad so that it can help those that consume the vision to chart their own course in line with the leader.  The leader must also be able to communicate that vision. 
  2. High Levels of Emotional Intelligence: The skills that define emotional intelligence include empathy, self-awareness, and social skills, which ease collaboration and an ability to read and adapt to an audience. Leaders without emotional intelligence deliver longlasting changes or transformations.
  3. Flexible and Creative: “No plan survives first contact with the enemy” (Helmuth von Moltke, paraphrased).  A leader needs the acumen to adapt their strategy to achieve their vision. Many agile transformations fail when methods or frameworks are force-fit into contexts without a high-level inspect and adapt approach. As a consultant, I am often called upon to save or clean-up after failures of flexibility — I would rather they not happen in the first place.
  4. Make Effective Decisions: Decisions are made based on the available information taking others’ views into account (emotional intelligence) and on time. Great change leaders test and adapt their decisions as new information becomes available. Self-awareness (emotional intelligence again) helps leaders to understand and avoid the biases that can impair them.
  5. Foster Self-Organizing Teams: Self-organizing teams offer significant benefits, including; faster decision making, higher motivation, quality, and productivity. An effective change leader will create the conditions for self-organization to flourish. The leader’s vision is one of the necessary conditions for self-organization; providing guidance and guardrails.

Whether a leader is enlightened or pursuing rational self-interest is not as important as how they approach leading. There are more attributes of a great leader but the five above are critical to leading change.