If you are a lover of historical anecdotes, you would definitely remember the stories of how Emperor Akbar used to dress up like a common man and roam around in the city, listening to his people. He would spend time observing how his ministers are treating the people, what policies are being implemented and what troubles are prevailing in his reign.
Much like Management by wandering around (MBWA)
The job of Agile leaders is pretty much the same. They are not rulers, they are facilitators.
They are unlike the traditional leaders. They not just inspire and influence people but they lead people towards self-organization, collaboration, and make them adaptive to change. Their main job is to create alignment and remove impediments.
So what makes a human, a Helluva Agile leader?
I like how I framed the answer to this question in the question itself.
Be what you are. A human.
Practicing Agile is like a Gemba Walk. The most important thing that you need to have is understanding people and have good observational skills. Like the emperor, you have to walk among your people and see the actual process, understand how they work, ask questions, learn and be an impediment buster.
Here’s how you can do it-
a. Define Agile for your context
Surprising, it might sound! But it’s true. Only after you know what you intend to fix, go to the agile manifesto for help. Figure out what’s working well and what’s not. Define what needs to happen that’s not already happening.
For example– Everything on your team is perfect. The code check-in, the peer reviews, the retrospectives. But you notice that every time a release is scheduled, some blocker pops in and the entire team has to stay back and resolve the issue.
Now the reason for this might be that you are picking larger indigestible chunks of a story. As a result, the story is dragged for too long and given to the QA just before release.
So this is where you need to wear your agile-hat and help the team to slice down the user stories so that they can move faster.
b. Continuous learning
Leadership and Learning are indispensable to each other.
— John F. Kennedy
Continuous learning is not just about learning new things. It’s also about making the old processes faster and efficient. For instance, if your organization did the same thing that they’ve always been doing, without trying to improve upon their mistakes, would you still want to work with such people?
Similarly, as an agile leader you have to imbibe lean thinking into everything that you do- how can you optimize project deadlines, how can you help everyone in your team to be productive, how can you ease out the miscommunication between the client and your developers.
Learning should be a never-ending process.
c. Develop people to become leaders
You are not a great leader if you don’t help others find a leadership skill in them. Leadership is not a role, it’s a responsibility. A Lean leadership focuses on developing skills and forging career paths for team members rather than just being a technical expert or being a mere coordinator of tasks.
Create an atmosphere where the team is responsible for success. Where everyone learns to solve problems together. Where every solution develops one’s capabilities and increases their engagement and commitment.
Instill a feeling of camaraderie and groom them to take independent decisions. Ask them to take a subtle control of things wherever necessary.
d. Allow some room for failure
A person who never made a mistake, never tried anything new.
The problem with failure is that we think that it’s not going to work in a particular way. However, on the brighter side, you have one option which you know definitely doesn’t work. And that my friend, is just the beginning to hunt for other options.
Ensure that you provide enough freedom to individuals and teams and they have enough room to experiment, and even fail on some occasions. Value honesty, quality, and commitment to your team members, above anything.
More than a methodology, Agile is a culture. Agile is having the right mindset. It’s when you realize that big is not powerful. Moving fast is powerful. An Agile leader becomes selfless in the journey to help other people become awesome at what they do and in that journey, they empower many other future Agile leaders.