Coaching Agile Leadership

Photo by Marco Verch

Photo by Marco Verch

Leaders make a decision, change has been announced, and the agile coach wasn’t involved—what’s their reaction? Having talked to coaches all over North America at various agile conferences and open space events and heard their thoughts on management in general, it seems like the reaction is this:

  • If the decision clearly supports agile and the teams, the coach is elated and does a happy dance

  • If there is any doubt of the above, the coach is frustrated, angry, or depressed

Ouch. It’s tiring to be mentally recasting managers as friend or foe based on their decisions. And exhausting to think of them as villains or buffoons majority of the time. There’s this notion that persists—if only they (management) would get it (agile), then the culture and team issues would sort themselves out magically and a choir of angels would sing. Ok, maybe not the angels. Rainbows and unicorns would appear.

Agile coaches tend to be on the side of the teams, which somehow means they are against management. I don’t know if that’s serving us or organizations well. Is the safety to fail meant only for teams or for the organization? If we are to support culture change, what is our role in being a coach for the organization as a whole? Is that possible? Management implies privilege, which is not something to ignore. Those with privilege can be blind to it, and others may need real assurance to speak truth to management.

I just finished reading Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley's Bill Campbell. Campbell coached a number of executives in his unique style that included hugs, cursing, confidentiality, storytelling, and asking questions. He undoubtedly had a significant impact on those around him, and the description of his work didn’t always match my understanding of coaching. One thing was crystal clear though: he was a champion for those he coached and the executive teams to which they belonged. Who are we choosing to be if we do not champion those we coach?

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.