We are all leaders. We create the world we live in and are shaped by the world we live in. As we look back, and celebrate, the accomplishments of the agile movement over the past 20 years we will look through the lens of leadership.
What role have “individuals and interactions” played in developing agility? What will be required of us, as leaders of collaboration, into the future?
I’ll share my story on the history of agile facilitation and coaching and encourage you to explore yours! Through sharing stories and exploring conversations you will craft your intention for leading into the future.
What kind of leader do you want to be in 2022?
Your Words Are Magic, and They Matter
In the book The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz, he explains that you can use your words for white magic; to create good in the world, or as black magic; to create chaos and spread negativity.
I like to think of this as my energy or emotions when I speak. If I’m fearful, feeling bad, angry, or upset, I’m not in integrity with my true self and my words can disrupt and hurt.
If I’m coming from a place of joy, love, abundance, feeling good and in alignment with what I value, then I’m coming from a place of white magic.
Several years ago I was leading a coaching and facilitation cohort. I had just finished watching the movie ‘Divergent’ and there was something in the movie that spoke to me and it had me thinking about divergence in group processes and how we need it. I showed up to the group call and we did a check-in – this is our way of speaking into the space about how we are each arriving and a bit of intention setting – what we want to get out of the call. I was so focused on divergence that I checked in with that intention. Well, my one take away from that call was that my words matter. Never again would I freely tempt the energy of a group by stating things that I did not want to actually see happen. Everything diverged on that call. My technology stopped working, I was dropped from the call and a whole series of divergent thoughts emerged.
If ever I doubted this notion of how words matter, that night cleared up any doubt I ever had.
How We Think is How We Lead
Leaders are made, not born and we are all leaders – even my daughter as a five year old demonstrated leadership. Leadership is how we think and respond in the moment.
Aligning my values with my actions is the leadership work to do. And then being able to use my emotions as a guidance system that helps me know when I’m out of alignment with what I value.
Doing this mindset work paves the path for greater self-awareness and is the doorway to the most fully creative, capable and competent version of myself.
This is where I can truly be agile
The Principle of Intention
If words are magic and my mindset influences how I lead, then being clear about my intention seems important.
In the book Seat of the Soul by Gary Zuchochf he talks about the power of intention. He says:
“Every action, thought, and feeling is motivated by an intention, and that intention is a cause that exists as one with an effect. If we participate in the cause, it is not possible for us not to participate in the effect. In this most profound way we are held responsible for our every action, thought, and feeling, which is to say, for our every intention.”
It’s why as leaders, we are responsible for our intent and our impact. If you’ve ever given someone feedback and they have said in return “well that wasn’t my intent”: we can’t own just part of that equation, we have to own the whole thing. The intent and the impact – even if they are not the same.
When I facilitate or coach a team – my first question to the team is always:
- What do you want the outcome to be?
- How do you want to contribute to it?
- Who do you want to be in the room if things go off the rails?
In my private coaching practice, I am often asking leaders “Who do you want to be at this moment?”
It’s this sense of intention that sets the energy for our interactions and energy is everything.
Intention is Law
The third law of physics states that for every action (force) in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction. In other words, if object A exerts a force on object B, then object B also exerts an equal and opposite force on object A.
Intention is everything.
The Agile Manifesto
The manifesto is a beautifully stated, simple intention.
“We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it.”
Now the challenge with intention setting is that it’s just that. It says – we want to improve how this works and help others do it.
The Challenge with Simplicity
The challenge with simplicity, especially for us linear thinkers, is that we say “Yes! Yes, I want that!”
- Trust others
- Respond to Change
- Create the Environment
- Conversation is the most effective way to communicate
And then the next question is, but how?
I went looking for the process, the step by step guide to how to make it happen. I even had the nickname ‘process chick’ – the one who creates the process for what we do.
My Agile Story
The manifesto resonated with me because by 2001 I was working with a team and we had been experimenting with Extreme Programming since 1999. And I was just starting to see something in ‘agile’ that was far beyond development practices.
In 1994, 5 years earlier, I came to the world of professional facilitation – and it was the first time I had my eyes opened to the idea of group process. That there was a way to focus on the group
process so that the group could focus on their content and move the conversation along. I found these skills life changing – it forever changed my view of my own leadership and how I thought about my role in conversations.
By 1999 I had been practicing facilitation for about 5 years and desperately wanted developers, project managers and graphic artists to see the power of facilitation. But back in those days we called them ‘soft skills’ and there was not much appetite for them.
But what this agile manifesto was doing was introducing the notion of people and behaviors into the concept of development.
Through the values and intentions set in the manifesto of individuals and interactions and collaboration – I saw agile paving the way for bridging this processes oriented side – of what we do -with the people and behavior side of ‘“How” we work together.
It’s easy to say let’s collaborate but anyone who has been part of a collaboration that didn’t go well, will understand first hand that the human behavior side is the messy part. There is no playbook for that.
Now, this was also the moment that I decided I wanted to be the one to teach others about the people side of the equation.
Agile Gratitude: Listening To All Voices
Little did I know at the time just how little I knew about myself and working with human interactions. My unconscious incompetence was high. As I have reflected on the past 20 years I am humbled today by just how little I knew then and possibly how much more I have to learn in the future. But I’m grateful for so many learnings along the way. I’m grateful for self awareness and having more command of my own behaviors in the moment.
The agile movement has been one of my greatest teachers.
It has made it okay to talk about humans and interactions with engineers and managers.
I am grateful that today we talk freely and openly about collaboration. We don’t debate the need for the human side of this equation and there is value seen in the ability to bring both.
It is this gratitude that leads to one of my first intentions, which is that I am the kind of leader who bridges the human being and the technical so that all voices are heard.
We need all three communication domains—Power, Affect, Meaning— and I’ve learned to bring more balance into my leadership range and also set a clear intention that speaking about feelings is crucial to our ability to be in conversation and relationship with one another.
When organizations try to manage out any one of those communication domains it creates cultural traps and results in people feeling not heard.
Just like there is no one model of agility – there is no one model of leadership.
Agile Gratitude: Growing Leadership Range and Working with Difference
I have gratitude for finding range in my leadership. I have a deep appreciation that leadership can and does look different – and we need them all. Just because someone says it or does it differently does not make them less effective or impactful. It just makes them different.
And gratitude for difference and the ability to work with difference.
I am the kind of leader who brings range in my leadership so others can show up as their full selves too.
In her book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert wrote something really profound. It was about ideas, and intention setting, and choosing what to say yes and no to.
“I believe that our planet is inhabited not only by animals and plants and bacteria and viruses, but also by ideas. Ideas are a disembodied, energetic life-form. They are completely separate from us, but capable of interacting with us—albeit strangely. Ideas have no material body, but they do have consciousness, and they most certainly have will. Ideas are driven by a single impulse: to be made manifest. And the only way an idea can be made manifest in our world is through collaboration with a human partner. It is only through a human’s efforts that an idea can be escorted out of the ether and into the realm of the actual. Therefore, ideas spend eternity swirling around us, searching for available and willing human partners. When an idea thinks it has found somebody—say, you—who might be able to bring it into the world, the idea will pay you a visit.
The idea will try to wave you down but when it finally realizes that you’re oblivious to its message, it will move on to someone else.
But sometimes – rarely, but magnificently – there comes a day when you’re open and relaxed to actually receive something. And you will start to notice all sorts of signs pointing you toward the idea. The idea will wake you up in the middle of the night and distract you from your daily work. “
~ Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
I don’t know about you but I’ve had many ideas visit me. I’ve said no to some. And I’ve also said yes to many.
Agile Gratitude: Collaborations
I’m grateful for collaborations and collective intelligence.
I’m grateful for lifelong friends and partnerships that have endured the test of time.
I’m grateful for Collective intelligence. When you can look at something and say ‘we created that’ because it was through the conversation that new insights emerged and the final product could not be traced back to any one person – it emerged from the collective thinking.
I’m grateful for the world-wide impact that the track has had – far beyond what I ever thought might happen.
I’m grateful that we don’t generally have conversations in agility like ‘what is facilitation’ or ‘what is coaching’ and why would I need to know how to do that when I work with development teams?
We worried if we were setting the bar too high back then. We were not sure if people would find resonance or value in the learning guide we were creating.
I am the kind of leader who grows other leaders and creates space for collective intelligence.
How to Start a Movement
When your parent, aunt/uncle, or grandparent asks you ‘what is agile’? How do you answer them? I find it difficult to summarize a movement.
Agile is…a movement
A movement is not about the leader or the first follower, it’s about the movement. Agile isn’t owned by anyone. It’s had many lone nuts and first followers. It’s visible and collaborative and it requires leaders who have the courage to follow and nurture other followers.
The intention of the manifesto – was profound – to change the way we work. Change of that magnitude is messy. I had no idea the personal, inner growth that would be required of me in order to really lean into agile ways of working and leading
It’s not linear. It can’t be planned.
It needs process, leadership, dynamics, tools, frameworks, books, new competencies, new ways of leading. And today agile is spanning boundaries
But what I’m grateful for is the durability of the movement. It’s been 20 years and it’s still relevant. We are still talking about it. Reflecting on it. And iterating.
Although it took HBR until 2017 to give a formal acknowledgement that Agile was a relevant conversation to be having amongst the leadership team. Who could have imagined that 20 years later we would be talking about Business Agility, HR Agility, Finance, etc.
Agile Gratitude: A Movement with Durability
I’m grateful that I find it difficult to summarize in one sentence to my parents what ‘agile’ is. It’s not easily definable today and for that i’m grateful.
What if we can’t get it wrong?
The downside of a movement is that it cannot be confined or constrained. There are many that would argue we’ve lost our way. It’s too commercialized, productized, too soft and touchy, too esoteric, too much of an echo chamber, too tool driven, too polarized, too far from the roots of development, too focused on leadership, too big, etc. you get my point – and you might have your own that you would add.
But what if we can’t get it wrong?
What if the agile movement is exactly where it’s supposed to be? What if this is exactly what the movement needs to look like right now?
See, if everything were perfect then the work would be done. But this is about continuous improvement. Every time we see something that you want to critique, what if we turn it around and ask ourselves:
What Am I Longing For?
In 1999, the predominant way to get a facilitator for your team was to hire a professional facilitator. As I looked around in 2011 I thought this is absolutely crazy. Why would we save the skills of facilitation and coaching for an outside consultant or coach?
Not that you might never call on help from the outside. But day to day? We need everyone – agile coach, project manager, product owner, team members, engineers, executives – all to have the skill of leading collaborative conversations and change.
I am longing for teams to have access to their collective intelligence. This longing and intention has informed much of what I have done since then.
What if every time you have an impulse to criticize or point out what’s missing, that’s actually an idea circling you – trying to get your attention.
What if that is a moment of Big Magic calling you forward to make a decision, set an intention and be the first lone nut?
Buckminster Fuller said:
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
~ Buckminster Fuller
The reality of agility is not something to fight. It’s something to embrace. We are where we are! The question is, where are we going? What is the intention that you will set for yourself?
Making the Decision
Intention is everything. Setting an intention and making the clear decision to stick to it sets a whole world of possibility in motion.
William Murray said:
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans. That the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves, too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred.”
Setting an intention is the most important work to do.
I believe that we are all inherently working towards a greater purpose that we were put here on this earth for a greater reason. For some of us our greater calling can manifest in the way we are working and in the movement that we call ‘Agile’.
If we’re all here working towards the same thing then let’s be intentional about how we do it!
What Kind of Leader Do You Want to Be?
Set the intention, and claim it! Make the decision today.
What will be required of us, as leaders of agility, into the future? How can you be in service to your team? To your customer? To the future of agility? Create from the moment.
What’s your intention?
Be in your own leadership. Be intentional about how you show up and engage with others. It matters and it makes a difference. When things get tough or feel overwhelming, change the narrative.