What do you want from your leadership work?

As my colleagues and I prepare to launch the fourth generation of the TrustTemenos Leadership Academy, I’ve been asking myself, “What do I want from my own leadership work?”

In TrustTemenos, one way we think of leadership is as making a difference with intention.  From this vantage point, how do I want my own leadership to develop, and what support and help do I need?

Leadership development means to me growing as a person, and growing in my ability to help others grow: to increase my ability to make a difference and to sharpen my intention, and to support others to develop those capacities too.

To do that, I want the leadership work I do to help and support me in understanding myself better, so that my work is attuned to the truest sense of myself – my identity – that I can touch in to, and to my clearest and deepest intentions.  

In this context, my leadership work is closely attuned to my own personal development work: I expect any formal leadership work I do to capture and support those priorities.

I believe that a unique leadership offering is available to every person – there is naturally and can always be a leader in every chair.  I fully expect the leadership work that I do, for myself and others, to recognise this approach and to avoid any assumption that leadership is a hierarchical thing, about dominance or positional power.

Leaders work within relationships – whether to learn, to co-create, or to call forward the work of partnerships or teams.  Therefore, I expect my leadership work to focus on understanding and development of relationship wisdom, skills and insights.

Leaders need to work in a variety of contexts – to understand when they are entering and leaving particular spaces, and how to operate uniquely in the unique contexts they choose to enter. Therefore I expect my leadership work to help me and others understand and identify contexts and to navigate them to increasingly powerful effect.

Leaders need to nurture growth:  personal (for themselves and others), relational, team, organisational.  Growth can be tangible or intangible, hard or soft. It can be measured and observed as concrete goals or outputs or qualitative outcomes.  I expect my leadership work to help me become ever better at nurturing growth – on my own terms, measured and assessed in my own way, in forms suitable to my own contexts.

There is a wealth of good thinking about leadership out there in the world – I count on any leadership work I do to capture the best of leadership insights, ancient and modern, across disciplines, across the world, to be radically inclusive and not to be focused on advancing any one brand or approach to “leadership training.”  I want the facilitators of my leadership work to be happy curators of the best ideas and the best practices they have found in wide travels and long explorations – and to be open sharers of credit for those ideas, themes and practices. I expect them to share a generous and growing list of readings and other resources, exploring and going deeper into the range of insights that have been important to them.

I expect my leadership work to be highly interactive and “hands-on.”  I expect to be able and encouraged to use what I am learning in action on my own leadership challenges, and to be able and encouraged to feed that work back into a circle of learning.

I expect the facilitators of my leadership work to call forward great “containers” as contexts for learning – welcoming, curious, encouraging, appreciative, inspiring.  Places where people feel entirely welcome in their uniqueness and their diversity, where deep trust grows naturally, and where a collective team of people share their leadership journeys together and their co-creative learning together.

I expect the facilitators of my leadership work to be inspiring, inspired and deeply experienced people – people who have done their own exploration and continue to do it.  They should impress and inspire me both for the extent of their learning, by the breadth of their ongoing inquiry, by their skill at sharing with and inviting others, and at the same time by their humility and curiosity as learners.  I expect my facilitators to be inquirers, not dogmatists or evangelists. I expect them to hold an elegant balance between confidence and humility.

I expect the facilitators of the work to be exactly that – primarily facilitators, inviters and catalysts rather than lecturers or teachers as such.  They should teach mostly by light invitation and by example, though paradoxically offering access to a vast wealth of material.

This is the kind of leadership work I want.

Not coincidentally, this is the kind of leadership work we seek to offer at TrustTemenos:  in our year-long Academy, in Certified Agile Leadership 1 and 2, in Coaching Wizardry and Witchcraft and in bespoke individual and organisational coaching and consulting.

What do you want from your leadership work?  What do you want from your personal or organisational leadership journey?  

Regardless of your level of experience, the direction of your journey or the level of engagement you’d like to have with us, we’d like to share stories and experience with you.  Please get in touch if that sort of dialogue sounds good to you. scott@trusttemenos.com

And please be invited to join us on the road.  Our new generation of the Academy starts in Berlin 28 March.  Details are in the link below. My partners in this venture include the amazing @Olaf Lewitz and @Silvana Wasitova

In coming weeks, we’ll be sharing here some of the leadership themes that are important to us, together with elements of that “reading and resource list” I foreshadowed above. We’ll organise some of that sharing around what we understand to be crucial questions for leaders.

We warmly welcome dialogue with others who treasure a vision of great leadership – in every chair – for our emerging world.

The recovering conventional manager learns from Agile: two final lessons

This is the last in a series detailing six leadership lessons drawn from Agile by a recovering conventional manager – me!

Being a learner – inspecting and adapting

The Agile founders built into all their processes a regular pattern of retrospectives – a disciplined practice of looking carefully at their work and their processes and sensing how to improve. Crucially, this practice starts at the team level.  Instead of being judged from above, the team assesses itself on its performance and comes up with its own ideas for improvement. This discipline is often called “Inspect and Adapt.” it happens regularly in sprints or Agile increments of work.  It builds self-reflection, healthy self-criticism and continuing learning and change into the organisation at every level. While formal leaders can contribute, of course, it is not a top-down evaluation exercise and leads to increased self-responsibility and a learner culture at all levels.

Bringing a big vision to life by carving it up into small chunks of work

Because Agile practice encourages work to be done in small increments, with constant customer feedback, reflection and change, big visions get built in small steps.  This takes a lot of risk out of the process, and does not require leaders to commit to a full plan early on.

Not only does this way reduce risk, but it also reduces strain on the organisation.  Instead of huge leaps, the organisations can change in small increments, rapidly but smoothly.  There is less sense of straining for impossible, unrealistic or invalid goals, and more a sense of dancing with reality. All the while we maintain a connection to a vision of the future — a connection held lightly, creatively and flexibly.

Taken together, these lessons invite me toward a much more humane, humble, curious, dynamic and creative vision of leadership.  I’m reminded of my friend and teacher Olaf Lewitz’s idea of “Surprisability”: we create spaces where people can do their best creative work, surprising themselves with what they can do, and being surprised by the beauty and uniqueness of their diverse colleagues. We make things and present them to the world, and are prepared to be surprised both by their successes and by learning how our creations might change or evolve to improve. With our intended outcomes in mind, we set a course to the best of our ability, but stay fleet and flexible – Agile! – fully prepared to be surprised, and to learn from and capitalise on those surprises. We hold ourselves and our colleagues gently, caring for ourselves and others as we create sustainable, welcoming and creative workplaces. And in doing all this, we bring great things to life in the world, little step by little step, delivering something new and beautiful every day.

This post also published on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/recovering-conventional-manager-learns-from-agile-two-scott-downs/

The recovering conventional manager learns from Agile: set a sustainable pace

This is the fourth of six posts detailing leadership lessons drawn from Agile by a recovering conventional manager – me!

In conventional management, all too often there is huge temptation for senior leaders to drive their organisation very hard, putting everyone under huge pressure and creating a culture of overwork and burnout.  This way of working often leads to injury to team members’ physical or psychological health, and to people just getting fed up and leaving. People with a desire for a balanced life tend to be driven out, undermining the diversity of the team.

The Agile founders discovered that their teams were most productive over time if they found and held a sustainable pace.  “Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.” This approach moves away from management as distrustful slavedriver and builds mutual trust and safety, particularly trust in the team’s own ability to find and hold its own sustainable pace. Curiously enough, it actually seems to improve long-term productivity as compared to an over-pressured style.

The recovering conventional manager learns from Agile: set your course, but commit incrementally

This is the third of six posts detailing leadership lessons drawn from Agile by a recovering conventional manager – me!

In conventional planning, leaders are called on to set major goals far in advance and then stake their reputations on achieving those goals. In Agile planning, a direction is still set. A vision of the future is clearly articulated, often in the form of a simple, brief narrative or “epic,” but that commitment is held lightly.

In the first instance, the organisation commits only to small incremental steps toward the vision. The effectiveness of each of these steps in the market is continuously evaluated, and then the next small step is committed. This approach keeps more options open and allows for constant learning and adjustment — responding both to changing circumstances and also to organisational learning about those circumstances.

The recovering conventional manager learns from Agile: make and “ship” vs plan and perfect

Second in a series of leadership lessons this recovering conventional manager has learned from his inspiring Agilist colleagues.

The Agile pioneers discovered that it was far better to create a small amount of working software and release it fast than to wait for a large product to be fully ready. This was because users and customers would then have an ability to try out and respond to a working product.  Both the development teams and their customers learned quickly and incrementally. This way of working transcended the tendency of managers and planners to believe they could see far enough ahead to develop detailed specifications for a product months or years in advance. Instead, the product was developed in small increments, with learning all along the way.

As a leadership matter, this approach is the antidote to leaders’ believing they can create a detailed answer to business challenges before engaging with the market and the customer. Instead, we are all invited to set a direction as a hypothesis, then trust ourselves and our colleagues to create small increments of value frequently and rapidly in response, ship them to the customer, and learn directly from the results.

Next post: Set your course, but commit only incrementally and iteratively.