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Mark Nicol
Mark Nicol

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Leadership is not a task but an attitude.

I wanted to know what SAFe says about leadership. The answer was not a huge amount, but it fits well with other sources.

The role of leadership is to create the right conditions for change. Adopting SAFe means a lot of change and realignment. This follows from the 'Lean' emphasis on continual improvement and alignment round value. Teams are forming and reforming, practices are changing. The emphasis is on keeping people motivated and prepared for the change.

One thing that surprised me was the emphasis on establishing a sense of urgency. I'd have seen that as something that could be stressy and demotivating. What is clear though is that this is more about having a clear goal, and being able to communicate it well. It is about helping everyone understand:

  • why change is necessary?
  • why now?
  • why this particular change?

There is an emphasis on organisational leaders having a developed plan and strategy. The leadership in this sense also need to be being consistent and open in how they talk about it. The more interesting stuff is about communicating that vision. The emphasis is on empowering the teams for action. It is about generating quick team wins. It is about making the most of any gains or lessons learned and anchoring the new approaches in culture.

Throughout the reading that a lot of this is about what makes a strong adaptable team. There is an emphasis on autonomy both at the team level and the individual level. Making it easy for people to understand the goal and removing any obstacles from their path. There is an emphasis on lifelong learning. Some examples being book clubs and regular lunch and learn events. This can also be developing curiosity and learning from others. For individuals, this might be asking questions and sharing tips with colleagues. For organizations, it can be benchmarking their peers and learning from what they do well.

Organizations can help this by ensuring people have the time and space to learn. They can provide financial and logistic support for people to attend conferences. The can also promote, attend and support other training and learning events.

What does leadership look like? The impression is that a good leader:

  • Creates a team who collectively feel responsible for success.
  • They work towards developing others abilities
  • They ask how can each problem be solved in a way that furthers both the team goals and the individual's capabilities
  • They inspire and align with the mission and minimize constraints
  • Explain what and why but let the team decide how
  • They listen - well
  • They empathize
  • They are self-aware - they know their own strengths and weaknesses emotions and behavior

The benefits are:

  • Increase ownership of work by everyone
  • Increase engagement and motivation
  • Leaders have more time for managing sideways and upwards
  • Leaders are less limited to their own power for getting things done - they can channel the power of the whole team.

So in an empowered team what are the formal leaders still responsible for?

  • Recruitment and retention. Finding good people that will fit. Fit can be a bad word. It has to be inclusive. A strong team often is that way because it has a good mix of perspectives or viewpoints.
  • Vision and mission alignment
  • Ensuring any built-in or mandatory quality practices
  • Coaching
  • Preserving transparency
  • They are the voice of the business owner - or represent any voices or viewpoints not present at the table
  • Continuing engagement with the business and other teams in the wider context
  • providing performance feedback to individuals in the team to support meaningful learning and growth.

All in all there is a lot that I feel could be useful to think about.

I'm interested how this impression from the literature squares with what others have found leadership means in an agile team. Please feel free to comment below.

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