Leadership – 1

Takeuchi and Nonaka have written an article on “The Wise Leader” in the Harvard Business Review. (May 2011).

Since they are the godfathers of Scrum, one feels compelled to discuss leadership in the context of Scrum.

First, we must note this is a big topic, and with somewhat different issues depending on the size of the firm. Also, leadership is separable from Lean-Agile-Scrum.

Within the context of Scrum, let’s over-simplify and consider leadership at three levels. Within the team, immediately around the team, and top-level leadership.

Within the team.

We find that the most important thing that a team does is create knowledge. (Knowledge creation has been one of the main topics for Takeuchi and Nonaka throughout their careers.)

We find that power and knowledge creation do not go well together. Let’s mention some words that go with knowledge creation: innovation, invention, creativity, discovery, seeing new, finding creative unexpected solutions to tough technical problems, intuition, prescience, sympathy.

And the innovation, the new new product, must be not only clearly new, but also relevant to the customers, and, usually, something that can also make money for the firm, and we want all three of these (new, for customer, brings bucks) to the utmost degree.

So, inventing a new product is somewhat like magic. Certainly in some degree, it is magical when successful.

So, perhaps you can see now why power and creativity do not work well together. We want all the team to contribute together, to try to see, like blind men, the full elephant together. Acting from power, or even just perceiving power, can inhibit this creativity, or so it can usually, and the inhibition is hard to see or feel.

Leadership and power are not the same thing, of course, although they are often thought to be related.

The Product Owner and the ScrumMaster are often thought to be leadership roles, and I would agree. This means when things must happen or when decisions must be made, they should do them or make them. Typically, each in his own sphere. (We won’t go here into the distinctions between the two roles.)

As Yogi Berra said: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Or, as Ken Schwaber has said: Few things are worse than not taking the decision. It is almost always better to take the decision and learn from the results. (Not always, but almost always.)

We also recommend each member of the team consider himself or herself a leader in some area (typically, the area where he or she is strongest). Depending on who each team member is, this may not be realistic, but I suggest it is almost always realistic to some degree. In any case, we suggest that team members consider that they are all responsible for the success of the team. This means that when they see something that should be exploited more, or a problems that must be addressed, that they each have the right and the responsibility to step up and lead in addressing that issue if only by identifying the issue.

The usual leadership style recommended with Scrum is what Robert Greenleaf called Servant Leadership. The simplest version of that is the ScrumMaster who asks the team ‘what is your biggest impediment now?’ and then goes about getting it addressed.

The more complex version involves a few things:

  • caring for the team (so that the team know it)
  • trying to help the team be more successful, both in their immediate effort (the new product goal), but more broadly as a team and as individuals, each in his own life
  • being willing to sacrifice himself for the benefit of the team
  • respecting the team

Let us stop for today on this difficult and interesting topic. More soon.




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