Manager, Mentor, or Coach – What’s my leadership style?

Last week, a group of us gathered for our very first Leaders’ Circle Session – where we discussed and shared collectively our experiences with developing and growing our leadership style inside Agile organizations. The discussion was framed around three different leadership stances…

Armed with these different approaches, we each explored our “current way” as leaders in more detail. Throughout this exploration, we surfaced pressures (internal and external) that drew us as leaders more towards the left (Management). We also surfaced an invitation to shift to move towards the right (Coaching) from our Agile mindsets. This lead us to each defining our unique “new way” and to determine what actions we might wish to take to transition from the left towards the right skillfully.

While it is difficult to replicate the experience of our session, it’s worthwhile sharing the actions we surfaced during our coaching circle. For deeper exploration of your leadership style… please consider the practices proposed below and choose what serves you best.

Actions for exploring (and developing) your Agile leadership style:

  • Take a moment in your day to reflect on that day’s interactions. How much time did you spend managing, mentoring, and coaching today? What was the impact of those interactions?
  • Did you engage in a different approach depending on the situation? Depending on the person? What patterns do you observe stepping back? What assumptions underlie your approach?
  • Have you ever clarified for yourself AND with your colleagues / boss the expectations in your role? How do you know “what’s needed” in the moment?
  • If your colleagues / boss were to describe your leadership style in a few words, what words would they choose? What impact does your leadership style have within the team from their point of view?
  • Identify a situation where your desire is to establish more of a servant leadership approach (leaning more on coaching skills than mentorship and avoiding management approaches)… what conditions would need to exist to support? What can you do to create those conditions? Take the time to prepare yourself (and possibly others) before trying it out.
  • Become more aware of your approach “in the moment” by building awareness of what you offer in response moment to moment. Are you “instructing” (Managing)? Are you “suggesting” (Mentorship)? Are you “exploring with curiosity” (Coaching)? Note: Building this muscle of awareness doesn’t need to happen in the workplace – can just as well be applied to personal relationships like parenting and friendship.

To close, I would like to offer gratitude to those who participated in this inaugural Leaders’ Circle session… your engagement and courage to build upon the ideas presented improved the calibre of the topic for us all. I am looking forward to the next Leaders’ Circle session… stay tuned – coming in May!

Coaching from the Inside Out…

As coaches and leaders of change, we may well have worked very hard to establish our way of working. Our expertise, knowledge, and experiences are hard earned – spending time and money on improving ourselves – we have worked very hard to birth and share our ideas and knowledge with the world.

And yet, for all our effort and hard work, we continue to struggle. We think: “if only other people understood as we do”. And so we keep searching – the right metric, the best facilitation technique, the most advanced training (or certification) surely will show us the way. So that, when our expertise and experience has expanded enough, then everything will be ok.

And yet, for all our effort and hard work, we continue to struggle. We discover that some people think as we do – hallelujah! And so we gather at meet ups, attend retreats, and go to conferences. We hang out on social media – seeking to engage and test out our ideas with other like-minded (and not so like-minded) individuals. So that, when we are well connected and established in a community, then everything will be ok.

And, for all our effort and hard work, we continue to struggle. And so we wisely decide that we need to become more “zen”. We tell ourselves things like “it depends”, “context matters”, and “be patient”. We may download a meditation app, attend a yoga session, or schedule a massage. So that, when we are able to remain calm in the face of struggle, then everything will be ok.

And, for all our effort and hard work, we continue to struggle… 

In coaching, we take all of that effort and hard work – we honour it – and then work together to get connected with your center of gravity. We stop seeking answers outside and make space to seek answers inside – to understand how your way of being (way of seeing, doing, checking) might be getting in the way of addressing your struggles. We work together to include and transcend all that came before… making space for a new way of directing your effort and hard work – one that is energizing and better aligned with your own inner wisdom.

If this speaks to you (or sounds like someone you know might benefit) and you would be interested in exploring a coaching relationship for self-development as coach or leader of change – please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at InsideOutAgile.

Transcending a Culture of Independence

“Under poor leaders we feel like we work for the company.  With good leaders we feel like we work for each other.” – Simon Sinek

This quote by Simon Sinek (in combination with a re-read of Stephen Covey) inspired a train of thought… ok, a rather long train of thought… and inside it, surfaced an important underlying assumption for me.

We all work for each other – there is no other way.

In that light then, what happens when a culture of independence (I work for the company) meets a reality of interdependence (we work for each other)?

  • Production (ship it) is consistently prioritized over production capacity (enablement & capability to ship). The impact of ignoring production capacity is most keenly felt when production invariably slows down. This slowing down is internalized as shame (it’s our fault, we need to do better) or blame (they never give us time to work on this important stuff). Which leads to the following…
  • Heroes are celebrated and rewarded for the pain they endure, as it takes increasing amounts of effort and time to compensate for the production over production capacity imbalance. Heroic efforts are the real measure of professional growth within the independent cultured organization. Meanwhile, more complex acts of collaboration, learning, and growth go unrewarded and unrecognized.
  • Leaders are compliant, protective, and siloed. A culture of independence tends to build trusting relationships through loyalty. Implicitly, looking good is more important than being good. Constructive and healthy conflict is disabled within the organization’s culture – creating an echo chamber. This behaviour inherently supports the following….
  • Information is a form of currency and power.  One-on-one discussions and decision making are favoured over collective discussion and decision making. In general, healthy team dynamics are considered a delivery team thing, not a leadership team thing – creating inner circles of power within these peer groups.
  • Dissonance between leadership intention (what I say) and action (what I do). Consequently, people stop hearing these leaders and miss important messages from them over time. This lack of clarity in turn motivates employees to tell their own stories. These stories are rarely positive and create a self-reinforcing cycle of miscommunication and fear… which in turn feeds the culture of independence even further. I must protect myself and look out for #1.
  • Disengagement is the only way employees feel that they can safely express their emotions in a manner that restores balance for them. Not happy? Feel frustrated? Feeling sad? Take a sick day, work from home, or take a vacation. Whatever you do, don’t tell your boss because that would expose a flaw (see “Heroes are celebrated” above) that could prove career limiting.

All in all, it’s really hard to work together. To compensate, staffing functions are created to implement measures of control. More discipline is applied in a wasteful attempt to align in the reality of interdependence with a culture of independence.

Transcending a culture of independence requires strategic investment in the development of leaders both as individuals and as a team to support genuine embodied behaviours aimed at meeting the complex reality of interdependence. There is no other way…