“Lean-Agile Leadership” is not a competency, but a symptom of growing up

“Lean-Agile Leadership”​ is not a competency, but a symptom of growing up

Recently I felt some irritation, when I stumbled across a post by Scaled Agile about the “Core competency” Lean-Agile Leadership in their framework. Generally – aside of this framework or the post – it appears to me – and maybe it’s me – as if Leadership is treated like a piece of knowledge, which you acquire in a training or where you “just need to behave” differently or you almost download somewhere.

What I have experienced, during many years of working with organizations and teaching many “formal leaders” in seminars and workshops, is, that values and principles resonate well with most of the people. Cognitively, “everybody” relates to them as ideals and knows about them anyway. The interesting thing is, that as soon as the workshop is over, most of the people seem to instantly “forget” about applying them.

Even if people have enough “practice time” and are exposed to the challenges of an agile transformation for months and years, it can be observed, that leadership style doesn’t really change. Everyone knows by now, that leadership is a key factor of success in an agile transformation.

If you are honest to yourself, even if you are fully committed to “act” in a certain different way, it does not work most of the time, especially if you feel under pressure. At least for me, this is true.

Nobody is born with a growth mindset

I believe it is very important to spread the word about how such fancy “lean-agile” leadership evolves, because everyone of us starts as a reactive leader. Nobody is born with a “growth mindset” – it is not a matter of what type of person you are or which education you had.

Evolutionary psychologists are pretty aligned about the fact, that it is a matter of “growing up”, which does not stop, once you are allowed to drive a car or get permission to access university. Usually we assume being “grown-up”, when evolutionary psychologists would say, one has developed a socialized mind. You are able to navigate life, without (methaphorically) punching everyone in the face or following and “acting-out” every single thought you have. This stage of development is, where most of adults stay for all their life. This is the stage, where the vast majority of “formal leaders” are – no matter what level in an organisation they have reached. Such a mind is just not able to be a lean-agile leader.

To be able to develop beyond this stage, one has to become aware of subconscious fears. And this is, where it gets messy, not only because in our society nobody, who leads, is supposed to be afraid of anything. 

It even gets worse: the internal “action logic” needs to be upgraded, but there is no download available. No kidding: Downloading may be good practice in the realm of information technology, but in the field of “social technology” it means, that you are on auto-pilot and this is the opposite of what you need in order to develop or grow-up.

One must deliberately work on self-development to be able to develop first a self-authoring mind, where you are not driven to protect yourself, control things or comply with everyone to be accepted. You are now able to “create” out of passion, because you are pulled by a sense of purpose.

However, the journey is not over. To fully live lean-agile leadership a “transformative mind” is needed, where you are able to integrate others’ perspectives into your sense-making and intrinsically try to find higher-level solutions to problems, which do not only serve your ego, tribe, cooperation or nation, but everyone in a given system.

It takes a deliberate journey towards great leadership

Social technologies are a field of research for quite some time. The wisdom traditions of the world provide plenty of different routes to self-development, which all implicate mindfulness. Progress in the field of social technologies is accelerating, but they are still far from mainstream thinking.

You can look at Mindfulness this way: it helps you to extend the scope of data you consider for decision-making. You go beyond physical objects (including bits and bytes) and objectivize thoughts and feelings as well.

By developing from one stage to the other, you “objectivize” the unconscious goggles, which you use to look at the world and move on. You still have these goggles, but you are able to use them, when they serve you. Isn’t it always comfortable to have alternatives to choose from?

Before “jumping on a train” or also in the middle of a “lean-agile” transformation, consider, that true agility comes from within. This is not only true for individuals, but also for larger social systems.. human organizations. Leadership mindset and culture on a certain complexity level will produce practices, tools, systems and processes which we could then call “agile”.

So what do you prefer? “Download and install” frameworks and practices or growing mindset and culture?

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