Leadership Notes in Agile Manifesto
“First Transform Yourself, Then Attempt to Transform Others”
I know. We are tired of leadership talks. There has been a perception as if everyone can be a leader and a market for this perception. I would like to share my views on the subject by setting this fact aside for now.
You may have come across the Agile Manifesto many times. An attempt like the one below is actually a rebellion. In fact, it is sometimes interpreted harshly as a left-right war. However, it is not war, it is a relative importance.
In the training, I ask the participants what kind of pattern they see on the right and left sides. The answers I usually get are bureaucracy and tools on the right; on the left, it is more in the form of purpose, people, relationships. Sometimes we even generalize as a class that the right side represents the means and the left represents the ends more. Now let’s look at this Manifesto from a leadership and management perspective; but first, let’s briefly summarize the difference between a leader and a manager.
Leadership is often what species do to their own. You may have seen or heard the most cliché examples. For example, the famous “leadership approach of wolves” video circulated on social media for a while. On the other hand, management is what we usually do to the tools (work, project, process, document, etc.) and to the people we work with, as we started to see people as a tool with the industrial revolution. The part of management that we do to our species is relatively small among all that we manage, but of course the biggest impact is there. After all, these two things are not super different from each other. However, we know that there are differences in the notes they emphasize.
We see more emphasis on leadership on the left side of the Manifesto. On the right, we see management more. In fact, I personally see a huge machine on the right. Is the machine necessary? Of course, in the period we live in and in Agile transformations, but there is a great need to strengthen the muscles on the left side that we have forgotten for transformation.
In terms of leadership, maybe we can exaggerate the Manifesto’s focus on people and communication as follows: For example, can we lead with documents? You write your leadership in a document and you say “take it”, “this is my leadership approach, now get inspired by this document”. Or with contracts, “sign here and accept my leadership, you will be motivated as you do what is written in this contract”… or with plans, processes…
Therefore, the Agile manifesto needs leadership by its very nature, that is, “Agile needs leadership by design”. We have a hard time transitioning to Agile without leadership. So, how does the Agile world come up with a solution to the “leadership quality problem”, to which we can’t find a solution even in our current management world?
In general, the Agile world revolves around 2 main approaches;
- Identifying and investing in transformative and transformable leaders
- Since it is difficult to find a superior great leader, allocating managerial responsibilities that the manager is barely able to keep up with between roles so that people can focus on their strengths.
Since these two issues can be separate articles, I will share my views on the first one in this article. I plan to write a separate article for the 2nd.
Transformative and transformable leaders: … I think I need to explain the leader a little bit that is difficult to transform (It’s not impossible) to explain this.
Our hard-to-transform leader package includes:
- know very well that the leader should mobilize people by inspiring them, everyone is already shouting loudly, saying the inspiring leader, the person who gives purpose, etc... However, even if he is aware that he is doing this with high stress, fear, and psychological pressure, he cannot overcome the state of fear and psychological pressure due to his ambition for success, perhaps to prove himself to himself/his surroundings. Victims with Stockholm Syndrome also use phrases such as “he is doing that, but he is such a nice person...” and they cover up the real crime for their individual interests. If the leader were to let go of the fear and psychological pressure here, he would be worried that the hidden insecurity under his strong appearance would be revealed, probably due to the sense of superiority and conservatism (including seeing human beings as superior to nature) instilled with unconscious care during his upbringing. It’s quite natural by the way... For this reason, he cannot be too intimate with the employees, he speaks consciously from the house of lords, he makes you feel that he is on top in every situation, but he keeps rattling on an Agile mindset. This situation may create a feeling of admiration in people who aspire to be like him, and these leaders may have gathered people who praise themselves. They tend to push those who do not praise themselves away from their surroundings as much as possible rather than win them.
- They tend to feel valuable while depreciating the other person by displaying careless behaviors towards the people they see “below”. Short e-mails/messages (in one of my training, one of the participants mentioned that he received a blank e-mail with only a question mark “?” in the subject part, we said he should have replied with “I don’t die that way, shoot a missile”, we were joking), shortening “thank you”, carelessness about off-camera sounds in meetings, creating the feeling of constantly dedicating his precious time to you, and many more old school behaviors that reflect the need to feel special. When it is done to himself, on the other hand, by experiencing prestige and reputation concerns, not being able to fully express his discomfort here (because there is a risk of being inconsistent if he expresses it), he gets tense and attacks people using work as an excuse. This way of chastening is very common… “Are you the one who treats me disrespectfully and carelessly” attitude... It is a pattern that is uncomfortable to see self-confident people in front of it, it is also quite masculine and instinctive, and it is a difficult issue to overcome this... But in the big picture, in the long run, such leaders deeply undermine the culture for short-term success and personal satisfaction. They are likely to leave a legacy that is harmful to people and society, but only financially beneficial to the stakeholder. After all, when these people get away from or leave the company, their ears burn a lot in the short term, as they have handed over an “egosystem”, dependent on violence... If someone with the same profile is not replaced, that unit or company may be dragged into an unsuccessful position for a while, and even a longing for that person may occur.
- These friends have high potential, they are people of success, but most of all they have trouble sleeping comfortably without attributing success to themselves. As they think they have understood servant leadership very well, it is quite possible that they have grounded it and rationalized it. For this reason, they train leaders who serve themselves with the fear they create, rather than serving others and inspiring their change. That is, the servant cannot lead, they produce slave leaders.
Therefore, the self-transformation of this profile requires a serious inner journey. Very serious. Going back to their childhoods, they may have to go through years of inner journeys that require a lot of meditation (whatever your form of meditation maybe), similar to Siddhartha Gautama’s (Buddha’s) journey, which may take years.
Ken Wilbur’s Integral Model, the writer of the preface to Frederic Laloux’s book Reinventing Organizations, one of the most famous contemporary philosophers, explains the subject of finding inner balance quite well. It is even shown as one of the most successful holistic transformation and change models of today. I highly recommend you take a look to see how big the job is and how tough the road is.
As a result, although this profile is suitable for operating the machine and running it well, it can be weak in situations that affect individuals harshly, interests, and need to be trusted, such as transformation. The transformation of these people also means a big investment.
So, how can we have a leader profile that we are looking for, which can be relatively easy to transform and have a higher return on investment?
- The leader we seek is not the one that acts modestly, that is, not just modest*; they are people who can be humble, that is, they can humble their hearts or were grown up like that. Therefore, we cannot always say that showing humility is a virtue, unfortunately, that’s why I try not to praise people for being “modest”... (I can say that I have experienced that a modest person may not be virtuous enough, as I have met many people and friends who brag and boast about their modesty.)
- They may not be the apparent shining leaders of today’s world of competition and greed, but they are the hidden powerhouses in transformations. They need to be exposed.
- These people are both down to earth (a phrase I like very much in English), as well as people who have dreams and visions. They may even be down to earth so much that if you have traditionalist remnants, they may cause you to think that “the person who will lead me will be a little unreachable, will stand firm, frown, and hopelessly cheer up when necessary”. In this case, I recommend that you reconsider the transformable leader, because transformations are processes that can result in people hitting the walls too much, so there is a need for leaders who can reduce the damage that can occur and soften the collisions.
To give an example from the last century, profiles such as Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., Oprah Winfrey, Max Goodwin character in the New Amsterdam series inspired by real events (thanks Deniz Uludağ for this beautiful enrichment idea)… In other words, people who were able to trigger cultural rather than economic transformations, plant seeds and create the frameworks in which these seeds can turn into trees and forests years later.
- Most importantly, these people were able to transform themselves first, experienced how difficult this journey could be during the transformation, and led the transformation of the people they serve by taking this power of empathy behind them. Here’s my reference to Ken Wilbur again... I mean, they say that the hardest war is the war with oneself, here are the leaders who came out of that war with a great victory. After all, “first transform yourself, then try to transform others” can be a good transformation motto at this point.
This person may seem like a profile that has transcended and reached nirvana. My aim is to draw the definition and the framework clearly, so some of the above may be very visible and some may be less visible. Here we are talking about people who can get as close to this side as possible. It’s not black and white, of course.
Before finishing, in the other of the 2 main approaches, I will talk about how leadership responsibilities can be shared in the Agile world and it will be easier for people to focus on their strengths, if there is no mishap, in my next article. Sharing leadership responsibilities is not unique to Agile. We can also say that it is an approach that is formed as a reaction to all the 20th-century management movements that are the result of the industrial/militarist movement. In other words, instead of single, strong, admired, unreachable leaders, the ones we can work shoulder to shoulder, trustworthy, equal with us in the world, who have power in their hands but do not use it and have a high tolerance for mistakes.
See you in the next article.