Leadership by action – 8 things leaders do to “lead” teams


“The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.” –Ralph Nader

What is leadership? Search on google and there are millions of articles that expectedly share similar and common attributes of what makes a great leader. Leadership is my present special interest given that it pretty much drives the success of failure when trying to get organizations and teams embrace change.

Continuing my research on the subject, I recently came across a couple of podcasts by Michael Hyatt where he covers multiple facets of leadership. I highly recommend you watch some of these on youtube.

 Having been through a huge amount of research around leadership as part of my ongoing research, my key focus was to connect these leadership attributes to real actions. Here is my list of 8 attributes (in no specific order) supported by actions that will give you ideas and help assess how you can adapt your leadership style to create maximum impact. Some of the listed attributes might sound too basic, but these are a significant part of the cultural change.

Vision and alignment – Leaders are leaders only because they have the unique attribute of being able to get the best out of their team in their quest of building unique and value driven capabilities. However; teams doing the work are generally caught unaware of the overall vision of what they are building as they have not been enrolled in the vision and have a very narrow vision on the overall product. Additionally, as the vision changes, the effort to alignment to the change of vision is missing.

Getting the vision in order, alignment to any change of vision and socializing the vision with all teams and validating their understanding is a critical aspect of leadership. This allows teams to maintain focus and leverage leadership to avoid impediments.

Come down to the level of the team – A common issue around leadership is the level at which they operate. It is common for leaders to delegate the work of coordinating with teams to the senior or middle management. This causes the leadership to loose visibility into the day to day issues teams face around the initiative.

Leaders need to find time to spend time on the ground and get a feel for the challenges teams are facing and build confidence by staying informed if not completely involved.

Don’t influence just because you are a leader – Leaders don’t need to be in charge to be influential. Most leaders want to be in charge because they have the position, however; what makes you a great leader is when you can create a influence by creating an environment where you team members can feel safe to fail, allowing them to ideate and innovate in the quest of creating something awesome.

Influence at the next level is always drive by the influence one gets from their level above. So, how you as a leader influence your teams creates a flavor for how the influence will trickle down to the lowest level. Actions are the best way to show you are a leader.

Build trust – This is one of the key issues with leadership. Because leaders do not spend as much time with the teams on the ground, they do not trust the teams to get the work done. Part of the issue has to do with the perception leadership and management have of the teams.

Having a conversation with the team, listening to them, showing that you care and creating an environment of innovation and celebrating failure are some of the things leaders need to do to build trust.

Encourage self managing teams – This is a big culture shift. Teams need to be able to make their choices if they are held accountable for the outcome. Unfortunately, teams get the blame even when the leaders make decisions without consulting the teams.

Ensure you as leaders share the same set of goals and values. Once this is done, every action taken needs to align with the end goal and adhering to agreed values.

Be discontent with status quo – Great leaders are discontented with status quo. Not saying that they control the teams, but they challenge then team to deliver more, better and something that is valuable.

Every interaction a leader has with the teams should encourage the teams to be self critical allowing them to make continuous improvement their second nature.

Keep things simple – Most successful organizations have the most simple structures and processes. As per the recent stats on Forbes regarding Netflix, the company has been able grow at a brisk pace (sales worth 7.16B) maintaining simplicity of its structures and processes.

Leaders should question the existing structures in trying to keep organizational structures less complex. As they build trust with teams, they should be able to do away with strict process controls and create teams that are self managing, self organizing and value focused.

Walk the talk – Leaders are catalysts for leading change and hence need to be great change agents. I came across this great metaphor about the aircraft safety procedure where parents are told to put on the oxygen mask before they help their kids. Similarly, leaders should be able to embrace the practices and behaviors first before they expect the teams to change.

So, as a leader, have a list of things you expect from your teams but before you share the list with them, assess how would you meet those expectations.

I am sure there are many more things you as a leader could do to make a difference. If there is any that you think is critical and should make it to the list, please leave a comment. Let the learning continue.



Have you read the scrum guide lately

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Every conversation around agile and scrum is a conversation about empirical process control. The term empirical is derived from or related to experimentation and observation rather than theory.

You must be thinking what has this got to do with the scrum guide. Well, there is a connection.

When experimenting, a big part of the experimentation is based upon the rules of idea or a entity that is being experimented with. As a example, when experimenting with chemicals in the lab, there are clear rules on when a chemical compound can increase risk or be harmful. However; scientists and researchers have continued to study chemicals from the time they were discovered to now to explore opportunities to leverage the properties of the chemical for general well being or further analysis. The study never stops.

In a similar way, some of authors who wrote some of the world’s bestsellers have continued their research, aspiring to make the results of their research more proven, well supported with success stories and case studies. More often than not, the key set of rules around the study has remained the same.

Looking at the history of scrum, Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber conceived the Scrum process in the early 90’s. They codified Scrum in 1995 in order to present it at the Oopsla conference in Austin, Texas (US) and published the paper “SCRUM Software Development Process”. With the first publication of the Scrum Guide in 2010, and its incremental updates in 2011 and 2013, Jeff and Ken established the globally recognized body of knowledge of Scrum.

The scrum guide has gone through it own share of revisions. For the most part, the core to the revisions has been the need to keep the guide as simple as the scrum framework itself and to adapt specific terminology to make it more in line with how the industry has adapted the framework itself. The present version of the scrum guide is only 16 pages long with focus on the core framework.

I first got introduced to scrum back in 2007 when I spent 2 days with Jeff Sutherland, participating on a CSM class. Since then, I have been of the assumption that scrum has remained the same till very recently when I happened to attend another class while being in middle of projects. I was surprised to unearth some serious gaps in my understanding of scrum and when the current scrum guide says. I spent the next few days going through the guide multiple time to bring make my understanding of scrum current.

Additionally, talking to may coaches and scrum masters, I feel people have not felt the urge to go back and read the guide recently and have been teaching scrum to teams and individuals based on their past understanding and using the old terminology. This has impacted me so much so that one of the first questions I ask candidates in an interview is “when did you last read the scrum guide?”. This helps me assess how current is their understanding of the framework and the kind information I should be ready to digest.

While some might argue that the changes in the guide have been minimal, I believe the current guide is much simpler, gives a good understanding of scrum in least possible number of words and is definitely the best source to assess your understanding of scrum.

I can confidently say that just going through the guide will help you make the mental decision about the quality of your adoption of scrum without the need to go through the long and formal assessments.

So “have you read the scrum guide lately?” If not, I highly recommend you take a quick refresher and ensure you are doing scrum right. Click here to print the latest version.


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