Leading the Lions

Great teams need great Leaders and great Followers. In Agile teams, we need every team member to step into a leadership role as needed, with no specific manager appointed.

This is perhaps the most fundamental aspect of an Agile team’s success. Agile speaks about individual empowerment and taking responsibility, and this implies Leadership. Leadership of yourself, first and foremost, and then a willingness and ability to motivate and inspire others to go where you are going.

Are great leaders born, or can we all develop these skills? The first step is about focussing on “We can” rather than “We can’t”, and this applies to leadership itself as well as the job at hand.

Show your team members that they can learn leadership skills; show them that they already are leaders in a number of small ways; and show them how to build on this. For instance, ask a shy team member to organize a study group on some new technology or similar small leadership role. Use your retrospectives to explain that mentoring a new colleague was a leadership role. Build confidence in the idea that all team members are applying leadership skills already.

At KRS, we decided that the next step was to bring in an outside company to present a one-day Leadership workshop. External facilitators bring new ideas into the company, and help to accelerate learning. Cape Leadership Centre ran a great practical (and intense) one day for us.

Analogies help to bring home a message:

“An army of deer led by a lion is to be more feared than an army of lions led by a deer” BUT “an army of lions led by a lion is to be feared most of all, for it is unstoppable” Alexander the Great’s father.

There are 2 key aspects to Leadership that I want to highlight. The first is about vision, and the second is a practical view about having a positive outlook.

Vision is a much maligned word in the business world. Many companies espouse great and lofty visions (and missions) yet do not live them. Our words and our actions must be aligned, not like the cartoon below!

leading the lions cartoon

Vision can also be described as Target Fixation – focus on where we want to go. A nice image here is the parachute jumper who hit the only tree in a field! By fixating on the tree (because he wanted to miss it), he actually ended up on the tree. Fixate on the green field; focus on where you want to go; not where you don’t want to go.

Next up is having a positive outlook. Attitudes are contagious – are yours worth catching?

We’ve looked at four Cs that pretty much guarantee a miserable life. These are:

  • Criticism: it’s easier to break down than build up!
  • Condemnation: seeing limitations, often through labelling or stereotyping;
  • Comparing: there’s always better out there and it’s easy to fall into the depression of believing that what you are doing is never good enough;
  • Complaining: some people seem to enjoy complaining!

In contrast, we like to be the type of person who catches someone doing something right! We reinforce positive behaviour with generously-given, honest compliments. What is it about human interactions that good behaviour so often goes unremarked? How many developers will say that the new release must be OK, because no one’s complaining? If this describes your work place, start small and make time each day to focus on something positive. Your new attitude will rub off on your team, and energy levels will increase!

We have all experienced bad managers, and tend to know what we dislike in others. Businesses are increasingly aware that staff leave their managers more than they leave companies, so growing positive leadership skills is critical for the health of our organization at a staff level, as well as for our competitive edge in the market place.

With thanks to:

Cape Leadership Centre
Kavana Consulting

About the Author
Lorraine Steyn is a founding Director of Khanyisa Real Systems. KRS is fully committed to Agile principles on all projects: it brings out the best in our teams, and improves value for our clients.