Leaders must step up to communicate intent, and then step back to allow the team to take ownership says Todd Little
Todd Little is CEO at Lean Kanban Inc. He is an executive with deep experience leading the development of commercial technology solutions. Todd is a pioneer and global thought leader in lean and agile approaches to improve business agility.
He is a co-author of the Declaration of Interdependence for Agile Leadership and a founding member and past President of the Agile Leadership Network. He has served on the Board of Directors of both the Agile Alliance and the Agile Leadership Network. Todd was also the program chair of Last year’s Agile India conference.
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Todd shares some insights on Agile, Leadership and Performance reviews in this Interview with the Agile India Team.
You have been associated with Agile India for a number of years now, what have we learned from the previous conferences and what are we doing differently this year?
Over time we have seen agility and agile practices become more mainstream and accepted as a standard part of software development. Sure there are many organizations that struggle with agile practices, but we no longer see it as such a specialty or as a process improvement. To be successful, agility needs to be integrated in with overall digital transformations, design innovation, and DevOps. This shift is reflected in the design of the conference.
You have been passionate about Agile leadership and have co-authored the book Stand back and Deliver. Can you tell us a little bit about your experience in Agile Leadership?
I have been quite fortunate to have learned from a number of mentors that demonstrated leadership characteristics that I wanted to mimic. Leadership can come in many forms. We tend to associate the term with people leadership, but there is also leadership in business, technology, and process. Probably the most important aspect of a leader is in establishing and communicating intent and then allowing teams and individuals to own and deliver against that intent. Hence the title of our book, “Stand Back and Deliver.” But leaders cannot abdicate responsibility. It is a shared responsibility, and in that sense, we call it a dance, and since I’m from Texas we call it the Texas 2-Step. Leaders must step up to communicate intent, and then step back to allow the team to take ownership.
What in your opinion is the greatest shift that is needed in our industry from a leadership point of view to thrive in this turbulent business environment?
Leaders need to build and maintain trust. Amazing things happen in high trust environments, while in low trust environments result in incredible bureaucracy with corresponding low productivity. The corollary to trust is the ability to live in uncertainty. We live in a world of uncertainty and discovery. Linear, top-down models do not work well in uncertainty. To manage uncertainty well we need systems with well-designed feedback mechanisms that embrace learning. And we are not just optimizing one thing. We have multiple goals which must be considered. For example, process improvement is desired for efficiency, while product improvement is desired for effectiveness in meeting customer needs. This is sometimes called double loop learning.
This year, you are also talking about an agile approach to performance reviews. Can you give us a brief insight on this?
I’ve been in people leadership roles for over 30 years and I was never comfortable with the traditional performance review approaches that were being taught. Those traditional approaches were not consistent with agile values (which were core to my thinking well before the Agile Manifesto was created). About 20 years ago I came to the realization that performance reviews should not be about meeting objectives that were set in the distant past, but about career development. This shift makes performance review far more meaningful and actionable for both the leader and the employee. A few years back when I joined a new company as VP of Product Development and Delivery I worked with a team to bring more formality to the approach that I had been using. This was a huge success with positive feedback from leaders, employees, and from HR.
What can attendees expect to take away from your talks at Agile India 2018?
I hope to be able to provide some pragmatic, actionable advice on leading business agility. And my talks are just the beginning of a conversation. I find some of the best opportunities are during the networking breaks.