How Do You Define Leadership?

May 30, 2012

Some people feel that because they have a title, this makes them a leader. However, the big test of leadership is in how you answer this question: Would you have any followers if you didn’t have a title?

Leaders have followers, and if you don’t have true followers, then what you really have with your title is positional authority. Following is a voluntary act. This means that leaders can exist within organizations even though they aren’t in formal positions of authority; informal lines of leadership exists where leadership is conferred on certain individuals by others, such as in recognition of knowledge and expertise in a given area.

When it comes to formal lines of leadership, people are placed in positions of authority – management roles – in order to get things done. Not just as individual contributors, but to orchestrate and leverage the collective talents of the people who make up an organization.

Changing Mindsets: One Key to Successful Organizational Change

May 23, 2012

In a recent post, Learning Organizations Require Certain Conditions, I talked about how – at a personal level – we need a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. If your goal is to stretch yourself and expand your capabilities, you need to be willing to put yourself in new situations that a growth mindset welcomes.

At an organizational level, a significant challenge for leaders who are driving change is making that change stick. This means changing the mindsets of those in the organization, shifting thinking towards something new while overcoming that inevitable resistance. People need to accept and buy into it. Change must move past being “something new” to the “new norm.”

How do you get there?

Don’t Let Fear of Failure Prevent You from Starting

May 18, 2012

We all enjoy success and the desire to succeed over failing is definitely a motivator, but we shouldn’t let fear overwhelm us or limit our growth, either. If we are going to stretch ourselves and reach new heights, we need to push our limits -- without getting in over our heads.

There’s a balance that needs to be struck. We need to have far-reaching, motivational goals, but we shouldn’t be placing self-imposed limitations on our potential. We need to nurture our ambition to scale new mountains without reaching for too much, too soon, because being overwhelmed can cause us to give up.

You can’t make the cut from novice to expert in one leap. But you can develop expertise over a period of time through dedicated effort and coaching from others who have developed expertise. And yes, you’ll experience some failures – let’s call them setbacks – along the way. Some of those setbacks may be out of you control while others will reveal your current limitations. It is up to you to reflect and learn what you need to do to expand your capabilities to move past them. Success doesn’t happen by accident (most of the time); you need a game plan.

Is Fear a Motivator?

May 15, 2012

There are definitely some in management positions who think so. The rationale being that it keeps people focused on their jobs and doing the “right” things. If people fear the negative consequences for failing to perform, they’ll be motivated to give it their all, right?

Not from my experience. Fear may be a convenient motivational lever, but “management by fear” will seriously constrain organizational performance. Fear of failure in the workplace brings anxiety and stress that drains people of energy. It causes people to play it safe and avoid stretching themselves. Fear can contribute to failure because the negative feelings and related stress gets the better of people and causes them to freeze up.

Learning Organizations Require Certain Conditions

May 11, 2012

As I noted at the beginning of my last post, Principle 14 of the Toyota Way states that become a learning organization is achieved through relentless reflection (hansei) and continuous improvement (kaizen). What does it take to make reflection and continuous improvement work?

There are conditions related to personal and organizational dynamics that must be in place to foster learning. For a start, people and organizations have to want to improve, which means being able to take an honest, realistic look in the mirror.

At a personal level, people need a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. People with a fixed mindset tend to believe that “you are who you are” and there isn’t much that can be done to change that, whereas those with a growth mindset believe that people can change – substantially, if they so desire. Another important distinction to understand is that people with a fixed mindset react to setbacks differently than those with a fixed mindset.

The Toyota Path to Competitiveness

May 8, 2012

Principle 14 of the Toyota Way states: Become a learning organization through relentless reflection (hansei) and continuous improvement (kaizen).

How much do you reflect as an individual? How about as an organization?

Time for reflection is definitely scarce in most organizations. In his book The Way We're Working Isn't Working, Tony Schwartz quotes Harvard psychologists Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey, who observe that, “We are already the most overinformed, underreflective people in the history of civilization.” Schwartz argues that, “The relentless urgency that characterizes most corporate cultures undermines creativity, quality, engagement, thoughtful deliberation, and, ultimately, performance.”

He’s right. These days we’re continually pressed for time, with little to no time remaining to reflect. We’re doing more with less – and this at times this means more than just doing more with less people, it means that we’re doing more with less thinking about what we're doing now, let alone reflecting on what has already transpired or how we could approach what we're about to do differently. As the Toyota Way articulates, reflection is a key aspect of become a learning organization. The lack thereof will impact us individually as well as challenge the long-term viability of our company.

Book Review: Scaling Lean & Agile Development

May 4, 2012

Scaling Lean & Agile Development: Thinking and Organizational Tools for Large-Scale Scrum
If you are looking for a book that discusses why it is more important to be agile than to do agile, this book is for you! Scaling Lean & Agile Development covers both the theory that supports Lean and Agile thinking along with practical advice on what to “try…” and “avoid…”

It is difficult to justice to a comprehensive book in a short review, but Larman and Vodde did an excellent job of combining their experience with extensive research to provide a comprehensive look at why Lean and Agile works and what it takes to change.

For example, thinking that Lean and Agile is only for developers, “…leads to no real change and no real result, and the eventual predictable abandonment of lean principles or agile development because ‘that doesn’t work.’” In fact, “it is vital to appreciate that organizational agility cannot be achieved by a development team in isolation—it is a system challenge for organizational redesign.”

Larman and Vodde go on to explain: “If an engineering team has the technical capacity to adapt or change quickly, but requirements management, legal practices, product management, HR policies, site strategies, and deployment processes all emphasize rigidity, conformance to original plans, conformance to the status quo, and slow practices, then how can there be real agility?”

The Elegance of Scrum as Defined by BART Analysis

May 1, 2012

Not all adoptions begin with ideal staffing. At one point in time I was both a development manager and a Product Owner for one of our teams. Was this ideal? No. Does something like this happen in real life? Sure.

If you choose to operate where there is role overlap, make sure that you are clear about what role you are “playing” when dealing with questions or issues. For example, as a development manager it was fair game for me to discuss the design and implementation of the code with developers on the team who sought out my advice, but not so if I was operating as a Product Owner. I always called which hat I was wearing before diving in.

I made sure that I did because I didn’t want to cause confusion later, when we found a dedicated Product Owner for the team. I understood the boundaries, authorities, roles and tasks (BART) that should be respected for proper execution of the Scrum framework, and I wanted the team to understand them as well.