In August I left the Agile 2011 conference two days early to attend The Leadership Summit. Although I heard there were some great sessions on Thursday and Friday at the agile conference (including oft-noted Linda Rising's closing session on The Agile Mindset), I have no regrets.
As I posted previously about my prediction, and as came to pass, the Leadership Summit renewed and reinvigorated me. I needed this more than more information. It educated me as well, but most importantly, it inspired me. I find that agile coaching in the large enterprise is less about educating people and teams, and more about helping people grow, finding their strengths and helping them to see and apply them, challenging them, confronting fixed mindsets and old ideas, and having grace for people being human. All of which can drain you. And on top of that, I believe that we need to be leaders, and leadership is hard. So, with that in mind, let me share with you what I gained from The Leadership Summit this year.
Over the course of two days (mine at a simulcast site, one of hundreds across the world), there were eight sessions. The speakers were Bill Hybels, Len Schlesinger, Cory Booker, Brenda McNeil, Seth Godin, Steven Furtick, Mama Maggie Gobran, Michelle Rhee, Henry Cloud, John Dickson, Pat Lencioni and Erwin McManus.
Bill Hybels on Overcommitment, Difficult People, and the Defeated Mindset
Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek Church in Chicago and the founder of The Leadership Summit, began by saying, "I believe we can change the world, but we have to let go of the safe, the predictable and the comfortable." I was struck by this because of The Scrum Alliance's slogan of "changing the world of work." I love the vision and the challenge of what we have to let go of in order to get there. Hybels went on to add some great leadership axioms, such as:
- Everyone wins when a leader gets better.
- Every leader can get better.
- Where do you show that you're investing in getting better?
- Swing hard or surrender your bat.
The main thrust of the talk was on leaders watching their commitment or challenge level. He drew something like a thermometer, marking three levels of answers to the question of "What is your current challenge level at work?"
- Under challenged (crossword, visit, watch the clock, don't feel fulfilled)
- Dangerously over challenged (Look at to-do list and, OMG. Work late, not present
The ideal level was just barely into the Dangerously Over-challenged level. We learn and perform the best with just a bit of pressure and anxiety. I have seen this to be true on Scrum teams, and it's detailed as the best way our brains learn in Pragmatic Learning and Thinking.
But, he cautioned, if you go and stay above that level, you'll break down. At this level, we can't sustain the responsibility we've put on our plate.
Do we, as leaders, set a bad example? The truth is, he said, is that we need a "discipline of replenishment". And we, as leaders, have to take responsibility for that. Leadership bucket. If you stay DOC, you can't have your bucket stay full no matter how many 3 day weekends, luxury vacations, hobbies, retreats, etc. you have.
Our performance over time, can go way up, but then it crashes. It's possible to overweb an organization. Also, we need to watch for being under-challenged, where there's nothing new, nothing that keeps us, our team or our organization on the edge.
Dealing with Challenging People
Hybels also asked, "What is your plan for dealing with challenging people in your organization?
Twice a year, he does personal evaluations, something he calls "The Line Exercise." He puts everyone on his team, that reports to him, or leads people, in order of keepers or indispensability. At the "not crucial" end, what you have is not bad people, just at the end of the line. This makes you ask some interesting questions. "Are these people carrying their weight? On the right issues? On mission? No longer a good fit? Are there known issues, but you're not looking at them? Are you avoiding tough conversations?" I've seen this a number of times in the places I've worked. The key to the future is unquestionably tied to ability to attract and retrain fantastic people, and also dealing with people no longer fantastic. He gave the example of "Bad Attitude Fred" - How are you going to deal with him? More importantly, how long will you let him spread his negative radio-active fallout?
Bill broke down an approach in the following way:
- If the problem is just a bad attitude, give him 30 days to turn it around and if he doesn't, let him go. The truth is, these people will often truly be happier somewhere else, but they're just scared to leave or change jobs.
- If the problem is underperformance, given them 3 months to turn it around.
- If it is that the role has grown beyond their capacity, and they are missing the elasticity needed to adjust to that role change, give them 6 - 12 months and try to re-deploy them, break your back to honor them, and break piggy banks for their severance if you can't make something else work for them within the organization and you have to end up letting them go.
As an important side note, Hybels said that your stock as a leader goes up when you fire for clear values violations. If you don't, you drag down everyone. Fantastic people want to work with other fantastic people. These problem people are not really happy people. 90% they find something else and come back thankful.
So, are you naming, facing and resolving the problems that exist in your organization?
The Idea Lifecycle Diagram and a Defeated Mindset
Hybels said that every idea has a lifecycle. The lifecycle has four phases - Booming, Accelerating, Decelerating and Tanking - "Nothing rocks forever." Pick some core areas, efforts or values and decide "We won't allow it to tank." Use re-invention, staff-lead efforts, and tackle cross-department problems in order to save these few and feed them back into Booming. Part of your job as a leader is to look problems straight in the eye, and ask if you're going to let it fail or arrest those tired ideas. Create a systematic way to address problems. This injects energy and self-esteem into your team, saying that we are not victims and can solve problems.
When is the last time you re-examined the core of what your organization is all about? Ask yourself "What business are we in? What's our main thing? Could we put it on a shirt? What's our core?" One company sold cars, but came to realize that they were actually selling transportation solutions. They're new slogan was "Bring your transportation challenges to us."
So, he asked, have you had your leadership bell rung recently? Leaders rarely learn anything new without having their world rocked.
Cast a bold vision. You want your people to either say "Count me in," or think you're crazy. As leaders, we need our boldness back. We've lost a little faith. How hard are you willing to swing?
As a process, he wrote that we often go through something like:
- "If we could just do or be "X", we could rock."
- "But we can't... "
- So we stay stuck.
- "But we're sick of being stuck!"
- But we're not sick enough.
I've seen this a lot, especially in large organizations. Hybels called this a defeated mindset, and said we're making excuses for being stuck instead of doing the hard work of finding solutions. Create an environment where people can be lead to bold solutions for stubborn problems. Don't just just preside over things, or preserve it from demise, but to move it from here to there, from Tanking to Booming. In agile words, "Move it from problem-saturated, political, fear-ridden, hierarchical bureaucracy to solution-orientated, growth mindset, empower, self-organizing, innovative teams." And Hybels added, "You have to believe God is willing to help you do it. If you don't, step aside. Make room for someone who does."
Hybels left everyone with a challenge,
Maybe your next year could be your best. You could learn more, challenge each other more. Tell me why your next five years can't be your best? Your team deserves your best five. It comes down to whether you want to do it. Why go out with a whimper? How you finish is how you will be remembered. For those starting out, make your first year awesome, not average. Do you want that? Leaders call people to decisions.
Also, check out this great summary of Hybels talk.