Brian Marick in his blog talks about the trend he is noticing at Agile 2006 of people talking about leadership as the “silver bullet” to implement Agile (my interpretation).
I could not agree more with this comment, that kind of leadership is not what Agile needs. Agile needs old-school managers to learn to stop wanting to command-and-control (and learn to love the bomb). Leadership is many times used to disguise “management” in the worst sense of the word: “leading intelligent people like if they were barely able to think and needed minute-by-minute directions.”
People that believe in the “leadership silver bullet” tend to also believe that one person can come and change a team/company to the best (like introducing Agile Software Development methodologies ;). This is not true, an Agile Coach (I like “coach” much better than “leader”) does not have any real material power, she only has the permission to influence: she is allowed by the team to bring in her own experience and expertise to the table, but ultimately it is the team (as a whole!) that decides what to do and how to do it.
Many people are (understandably) skeptical about this “coach” role. They are skeptical because they have never met a real coach that could so much influence their work life as to make it meaningful and pleasant. Never having experienced a successful “coach”-“team member” relationship is probably the single most important reason for people to, still today, believe that a “leader” can come and save the day.
They are locked in the “great man” theory and only an important shift of their mental model will help. How do you bring that shift about? Lead by example, or better yet, don’t lead, just do it and show it works! (“Being led by example” is what people call the desire to replicate a successful effort – I just call it common sense…)
The top management myth
Another myth related to the “Leadership” smoke-screen is the one I often face when people tell me that Agile cannot be implemented without the consent and even sponsorship of top management, after all, “it is in their best interest to do so because it will increase productivity”, etc., etc. ad infinitum.
Stop! Agile only works if people believe in it and are willing to go through the process of “failing” in order to learn (remember this is not the “silver bullet”). As any new piece of knowledge, knowing how to apply Agile methods comes through some study and a lot of experience.
If you believe Agile will work for your company start working that way, learn from your mistakes and improve, every day. If you do so, you will be able to implement Agile without ever talking about it to your top management. More, they will be in the happy (but hopelessly ignorant) belief that they were the ones that improved your company and did it without your help! BTW: don’t let this affect you, this is actually a sign of success, not failure to take credit! 😉
Agile for our sake
Agile works and continues to thrive not because a bunch of well paid consultants have been spreading it (even though that is starting to happen) or because a group of clueless CIOs suddenly saw the light (even though that is also starting to happen). Agile works and thrives because more and more people experiment with it and see the benefits.
What are you waiting for?