The manager's role was changed by the introduction of agile mindset and agile transformation business scenarios – today we ideally look at leaders, enablers, and servant leaders (PMI, Project Management Institute). We look for people to guide, to lead by example, know the team by heart and see the people behind the numbers. There are quite some differences between management in the traditional sense compared to the current agile thinking in leadership. Let us have a look:
From traditional management to agile leadership
In the past, the role of a manager was a single, individual role, which involved distributing the tasks and checking in on them – the manager was mostly an authority figure. Being a manager was about delivering numbers and targets. In the ever-changing world, managers had to get used to moving targets and changing circumstances. The only constants were the people they worked with and the environment they created for them. It became increasingly important to be a team player within their own team, to build empathic skills to understand what drives their people, how to communicate with them effectively, build trusted relationships with them and an environment where people feel safe. With this new mindset, leaders were born out of managers.
From one-sided instructions to safety and empathy
Simon Sinek is an inspirational speaker who is coaching leaders on how successful leaders think and act. As he famously said in one of his inspirational speeches: “When people feel safe and protected by the leadership in the organization, the natural reaction is to trust and cooperate… However, trust and cooperation are feelings, not instructions.” There are situations in the world that project danger to the organization (market changes, acquisitions…), and these situations are usually outside the organizations’ leadership control. “[The] Only variable is the condition inside the organization. And that's where leadership matters because it's the leader that sets the tone.” This change in the mindset from the past management principles laid out an exciting challenge to the modern world leaders to become more agile and better performing in the constant change.
Safe environment and Feedforward
In a safe environment, where trust is highly present, the team can freely talk about subjects that are going well – in addition to discussing topics that are not going as expected. Both viewpoints have important added value: the team can learn from what is going exceptionally - by continuing to prioritize and highlight these areas, find a way of honest appreciation towards these topics and the people who enable them. On the other hand, an identified improvement is also key to ensure the best performance, to analyze where the changes need to happen, what needs to be done and who needs to be involved to transform the subject to a winning story in the future. This is the future of organizational improvement, which is called "Feedforward” in the evolving Avoras culture, which takes the concept of feedback and turns it into a proactive improvement possibility.
Irving Washington is a successful leader, who experienced the challenges of leadership early in his career. In his Ted Talk “Authentic Leadership for the Future” - he talks about the misconception of a leading leadership rule: “Don't talk about the personal struggles of leadership.” Not sharing the struggles and not reaching out to peers, coaches, team members - to see how others would act in a similar situation would promote a highly uncomfortable singular perspective. This is usually followed by tremendous pressure by the isolation on the problem-solving or decision-making. Creating a supportive system out of peers, team members and mentors is an essential part of feeling understood as a leader and being able to open the singular perspective to something much bigger and beneficial for self and for the organization.
In the same Ted Talk, Irving talks about his quest to find the “one idea of the future that if we just taught all leaders that would make the difference.” In his journey, he found the answers – as many leaders already did consciously or unconsciously: Authenticity. It is not enough to follow different leadership rules and meanwhile not embrace the authentic self. “Leadership success starts with authenticity — doing our jobs without compromising our values and personality." (CCL)
Understanding blind spots
To understand others – leaders first must understand themselves. And this is not an easy task by itself. John C. Maxwell is a leadership expert, author of numerous leadership guidance books. He listed out reasons what makes it so difficult for a leader to lead the team and themselves: a singular perspective, insecurities, out-of-control ego, weak character. The good news is that all these reasons can be improved on. To overcome the blind spots, the key rules are always assuming that there are blind spots and reaching out to the direct environment to help to identify these blind spots, in other words – ask for and provide Feedforwards.
For example, a great tool to do this is the Johari Window. It is a self-development technique by Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham that helps to identify the 4 areas according to what the person and what others recognize. The technique works by placing different pre-listed adjectives of self to these quadrants, then asking the peers to do the same about the initiating person. The difference can be astonishing between the imagined and projected reality, and also a wonderful (and sometimes sobering) way of finding development areas.
To be a modern and agile leader is highly challenging. The expectations are high and sometimes hard to match with reality. However, to be a great leader is not only about excelling in different situations, it is also about recognizing what went well and what can be improved on the team and self. A great leader is thriving to be better every day, shows up, takes responsibility for their actions – and with this shows a great example of what they expect from their team. They are part of their team, building trust and respect in their environment with their authenticity, empathy, and continuously improved leadership capabilities.
To conclude - “No one achieves anything alone. So, let's embark on this journey together. Let's break out a map. Not the old, out-of-date one that shows where we've been, but the new, crisp one that shows where we might go.” – Leslie Knope
- John C. Maxwell – What successful people know about leadership (2016)
- A guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge: PMBOK Guide Seventh Edition and The Standard for Project Management
- Irving Washington: Authentic Leadership for the Future
- Why good leaders make you feel safe | Simon Sinek
- Simon Sinek - Understanding Empathy
About the Author
Klaudia Kovacs - Project Management Expert
Klau's passion lies in stakeholder management – to understand what drives people and work as a team for the best outcome possible. She has experience leading projects on different scales including 5 to 300 stakeholders.