The Best Kept Secret to Effective Agile Team Leadership (And It’s Not What You’d Expect)

The Best Kept Secret to Effective Agile Team Leadership (And It’s Not What You’d Expect)

For over a decade, I’ve been working with, teaching, and coaching teams that want to become agile. I’ve seen and dealt with all the usual suspects on this kind of team.

  • The Champion
  • The Obstructionist
  • The Doubting Thomas
  • The Nonchalant Go-Along-to-Get-Along
  • The Non-Talker
  • The Over-Talker
  • The Luke-Warm Leader

The list of stereotypes goes on…

Out of all the experiences I’ve had, I’d say that one of the most reliable predictors of a successful Agile team transformation is having The A**hole Leader on the team.

My favorite poster child for effective A**hole Leadership is Steve Jobs.  If it wasn’t for him fulfilling this team stereotype, we would not have the iPhone and many other tech, music, and media disruptors we now consider to be new norms.

And I don’t mean a**hole in the annoying, should-be-thrown-off-the-team sense. I mean it in the sense of someone who displays stubbornness, defiance, persistence, and consistency for the cause (of becoming agile). The leader of a team that is in agile transition MUST be vigilant about not tolerating agile culture blockers.

One of the chief responsibilities of an effective agile team leader is to protect the culture. Yes, agile is a culture just as much as it is a project management “methodology”.  Mostly, its a culture IMO. It is a difficult culture to transition into though. Thus, the reason why many team members will do all of the obstructionist things that humans do when you try to get them to change – defy, challenge, resist, deny, attack.

It takes a strong and stubborn leader to constantly stamp out all of the things that team members are inclined to do that are counter to an agile culture.

For the transition team and leader, it is a constant and tiring fight, but worth it when you consider the greater good – a great product produced by a great team. Sometimes the greatest product you end up producing IS the team. That’s the best possible outcome because once you’ve made a great team then you can always make great things together.

If the team isn’t great, the stuff you make together won’t be either.

Becoming an agile leader requires good coaching (and maybe a good therapist too – kidding, not kidding).

Being an agile leader is, well, a lot like herding cats or leading a group of toddlers in an art project. Expect that many early-transition undertakings will be non-linear, messy, and painfully slow. Embrace that up front and you’ll be a lot better off.

Here’s a useful warning though.

There’s a fine line between the good kind of a**hole and the bad kind.

And here’s another warning to pre-empt the trolls and nay-sayers that don’t have a sense of humor…. I’m not suggesting this leader stereotype is the ONLY way or the BEST way to succeed in an Agile Transformation.  I’m just saying, I’ve seen it be one of many effective ways to succeed at your transformation.

If you’re considering an Agile transformation for your team or stuck in the middle of one that’s not going so well, then consider hiring an Agile Coach.  A good Agile Coach can help the entire team get the balance right and help the a**hole leader stay on the right side of a**hole-ness.

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