Leaders Go First

Being a leader may not be the bed of roses we dreamed it would, from the outside looking in.
Turns out, Leaders Eat Last, according to Simon Sinek in his popular book by the same name.
To make matters worse for leaders, when it comes to doing something new or particularly challenging…in that case leaders go first. (Lucky you!)
Somehow, it seems that most Agile Coaches didn’t get the memo.

There is a certain “coming of age” period approaching the Agile community.  It’s an area where Agile Coaches and Trainers have been kicking the rock down the road for more than a decade now.  I could speculate why, but I won’t.  Agile Coaches are going to have to start actually coaching the entire enterprise, not just the individuals and teams that make the software, where the Agile Coach has traditionally spent all of their time and focus.

Business Agility and Enterprise Digitization require an alignment of mindset and belief system that pervades every corner of the organization, starting at the top.  Mike Beedle has advanced a construct called Subsumption where the organizational structure requires every team and every layer of the enterprise to leverage direct empiricism, Agile values, principles and practices to rapidly extend, expand and enhance the overall performance of the organization, wherein everything is optimized to achieve explicit business goals.  His upcoming book, Enterprise Scrum, annual events and frequent courses expound how deep these implications are for financial performance and fulfillment of the intrinsic motivations of workers.

I have noted, in my candid conversations with many dozens to hundreds of Agile Coaches, that coaching C-level executives was never included in their SOW (Statement of Work) nor even discussed in their over-all engagement or transformation strategy.  This is extremely unfortunate because such oversights or deficiencies set the transformation up for failure, thereby marring the careers of the executives who, through no or little fault of their own, did not think to ask for their own coaching to be included in the overall package of services contracted for.

While others may hope to sweep this deficiency of consulting/coaching practice under the rug, I will not.  The trust of my clients means much more to me than just some 1-off transaction to build my brand while making ends meet.  My values and principles compel me to provide everything that the client requires to succeed in this transformation endeavor which quite possibly will be THE most difficult undertaking of their business life.

I am not alone in my commitment to stand with my clients.  There are many other reputable coaches and business consultants who speak plainly on this topic, and have been vocal about it for several years.

Daniel Mezick, an author on the topic of agile transformation, points out, “When implementing OSA, leadership preparation is essential. The formally authorized leaders must be prepared for what follows. If they are not prepared, the implementation will fail.”
“The leaders will also experience liminality and communitas. They will need a coach.” (The Open Space Agility Handbook, pg.40)

In a 2011 presentation to the Agile Alliance, Jon Stahl says that leaders “Must live the values, lead by example, seek to truly understand their culture, and be as transparent as the teams they lead.”

Robert J. Anderson and William A. Adams point out in their book, Mastering Leadership,
“Successful entrepreneurs and senior leaders often resist discovering that they still have much to learn. The higher they go, the less feedback and formal development they get; hence, when leaders try to transform business results, they usually need to do most of the changing.  Admittedly, transformation is an acquired taste- not for the faint of heart.  However, significant culture and performance shifts require it.  That’s the deal.” (pg. xxx. authors’ original emphasis left in.)

“Leaders carry enormous responsibility and operate in a world of increasing change, complexity, and connectivity.  They are asked to work with more transparency and disclosure as they endure greater scrutiny.” (pg.2)

Exactly what kind of scrutiny are we talking about?  Just enough scrutiny to serve the purposes of the entire organization.  This is NOT theoretical, ex-post-facto external auditors’ examination of the books.  This is real-time, real-life transparency into the process of leadership in action.  Rhonda Swain explains exactly what this looks like in a video recorded interview about her work as an executive at Intuit, in the capacity of Compliance Officer.

In a web based Article, Daniel Mezick summarizes, “If enterprise leaders are unwilling to do their leadership work in an Agile way, how credible is their interest in using Agile methods for continuous enterprise-wide improvement? Answer: Probably not very credible at all. Leaders can go first. Leaders can use a Kanban board to make work visible, they can have a daily Scrum-like meeting, and they can present a demonstration of their work to subordinates at the end of each month.”

Can’t a leader catch a break these days?!?  The answer may be, “Maybe, but who really wants one, when life and work can be so much better after transforming one’s self, with the help of a coach?”

It’s been said so many times, everyone needs a coach.  I agree.

To clear the good name of Simon Sinek, what he also said about leaders was this: “Leaders are the ones who have the courage to go first, to put themselves at personal risk to open a path for others to follow.”  They are the first to open up.  That is commendable, and I am committed to serving and coaching exactly that kind of leader.  Together we succeed.

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