Agile to Agility Leaders

Agile to Agility Leadership Highlights

Agile expert strategies for leadership in complex times

When Scrum coach Miljan Bajic began asking agile experts for advice, he decided to make the conversations into the Agile to agility Podcast to share with others who might have similar questions. He then invited podcast guests to present at an agile-themed discussion on Zoom, which became the first Agile to agility Conference in April 2022. He’s now interviewed more than 70 podcast guests and hosted five conferences.

The following quotes offer insights on agile leadership for complex times from guests of the Agile to agility podcasts and conferences.

From the Agile to agility Podcast:

Pete Behrens

Certified Leadership Agility 360 Coach at Trail Ridge
Quote from Agile to agility Podcast: Leadership, Culture, and Behaviors

Leadership is asking “How do I do things with people better, how do I connect better?”

As leaders mature, they start to develop layers, I don’t want to say personas, but there’s depth to leaders as they develop. A leader with one level of depth has a hard time situationally adapting, they only have one tool, one hammer, so everything’s a nail. When they build another layer, now they have a screwdriver. Situational leadership is the ability to adapt your approach to the situation.

All leadership development at its root is really getting towards, are you aware? And how do you develop that awareness, how do you leverage it to be a better leader?

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Patricia Kong

Product Owner of the Evidence-Based Management (EPM) at and author of The Nexus Framework for Scaling Scrum
Quote from Agile to agility Podcast: Scrum, Innovation, Evidence-Based Management

How can organizations and leaders think about the societal impact they’re having? And what it means for us as a whole society? There’s this mindset shift from the fixed to the growth mindset, where what we do hopefully helps someone else.

Both employees and customers are saying, “I have beliefs and I have a value system, do you support that? What is your organization doing to support the things I believe in? Cause if you aren’t doing something, I have other options.”

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Jim York

Certified Enterprise Coach and a Certified Scrum Trainer at FoxHedge Ltd
Quote from Agile to agility Podcast: Product Ownership, Product Dev, Scrum Guide 2020

I like to use the metaphor of a Product Owner as an architect. Back when we conducted classes at a hotel, I asked the class to think about the architect who built the hotel. They are probably not the investor, and they are probably not the user, but they need to consider the needs of both. They also need to operate within the constraints of the hotel brand and zoning regulations and work with the engineers, plumbers, and contractors. I don’t expect them to be an expert in all the disciplines and domains, but I do expect them to pull it all together.

A Product Owner needs to nurture the cadre of people who are doing the work, manage the coalition of stakeholders, and maintain the integrity of the vision.

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Mike Cohn

CEO at Mountain Goat Software and author of Succeeding with Agile
From Agile to agility Podcast: Scrum Alliance and the Past & Future of Work

Culture is how people behave when they are not getting evaluated or honored. Will I do the right thing for our customers even if my boss will never know I did the right thing for our customers? As an example, my wife and I bought a new dishwasher and had it installed, and then that night it wouldn’t start. It was 6:30pm, so we called the appliance store expecting to leave a message but we got a salesperson who said, “You are on my way home, I’ll stop on my way and fix it.”

I made sure to let the company know, but that guy did the right thing with no expectation that his boss would ever know. That’s an amazing culture. You can say you are customer centric all you want, but that’s a company that’s living it.

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From the Agile to agility Conference:

Miljan Bajic

Founder of the Agile to agility Conference and host of Agile to agility Podcast

For the last 20 or so years, people have misunderstood what it means to be agile. They think we can implement these practices and frameworks and be agile just like that. That’s like thinking that simply adopting a diet will make you fit forever. It may help you, but it’s a transformation, if I don’t focus on staying fit, I will go back to being less fit. In [complex] environments there are no cookie cutter frameworks that will always work.

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Mary Uhl-Bien

BNSF Railway Endowed Professor of Leadership in the Neeley School of Business
Quote from Agile to agility Conference: Leading in Complexity: Enabling the Adaptive Process

When we are in complexity, it requires that leaders enable an adaptive response. People in complexity have an order response that focuses on stability and typically what it tries to do is drive back to the old order. So when people are put in complexity and taken off their path, they say no, we are going to keep operating the way we were operating before. The problem is if we are in complexity and we go to the order response, we end up in stagnation and in extreme cases, death. What we need instead is an adaptive response.

So if a chaos response is running scared with no pattern, and an order response is going back to what we know, what is an adaptive response? The adaptive response is a networked solution.

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Dave Snowden

Founder and Chief Scientific Officer of The Cynefin Co
Quote from Agile to agility Conference: Distributed leadership – process over psycho-paternalism

People study successful leaders by interviewing them, but what managers and leaders say about what they do is completely different from what workers experience of the reality.

If you’re going to do research into leadership you need to do one or two years deep immersion into the ethnography of the company, not just a few interviews with the leaders themselves and draw general conclusions from that. So I try to avoid at all costs defining leadership competencies.

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Geoff Marlow

Executive Director Aligned Agility
Quote from Agile to agility Conference: Making sense of sense-making

People get into a place where they think, “I say it’s a circle, and you say it’s a triangle, and we can’t both be right, so you must be wrong.” This being fixated on a narrow perspective is what stops people from being able to work effectively with others who see things differently. This is why diversity usually results in fragmentation, not in innovation and agility.

That’s when I show them 2D3D (a thinking tool) and say, “Look Bob you are saying it’s like the circle, and Jenny you are saying it’s like the triangle, and Carol, you’re saying it’s like a square. What’s the bigger picture that we’re all missing?” (They can see 2D3D is all of those shapes combined.) So can you get into a constructive generative conversation about each of us bringing a perspective that adds to the overall understanding?

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