Agile: Leadership without titles

This was title of a lecture I gave at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, or in short PolyU. I’ve been asked to tell my story, and how I got where I am right now, related to leadership. Am I some kind of a well known leader to talk about this subject? No, I am not. At least not in the way many perceive words leader and leadership.

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The message was that looking up to or becoming a leader has a flip side. I’ve been through one of the most extreme ones in Bosnia, where leaders pushed people into war against each other. A more subtle one is the way most businesses are being managed. In Hong Kong, but also in the rest of the world. In most companies, we have people who think or manage, and others who execute as being told. Distinction between the two is very clear. There is this whole notion that people on the floor know much less, and are less capable than people on the top. Of course, this has also become a self-fulfilling prophecy with certain level of acceptance. People on the floor are not encouraged to be creative, think for themselves, but follow the process defined by “smarter” people. It is defined by Frederique Winslow Taylor about 114 years ago in his book “The Principles of Scientific Management”. Not much has changed ever since, or has it?

Well, yes. Many changes are taking place in this area and some of them, like Agile Software Development, are making a dent in this old-fashioned way of thinking about people. A nice “side-effect” is that people who have broken with these old rules, actually deliver much better quality faster. Or better to say, they are more effective.

Who is “they” in this case? They are Agile teams. A groups of people holding certain values, like collaboration, trust, and respect. But, what makes these people really effective in business world is the sense of leadership in each member of the team. Team members are continuously encouraged to improve, be creative, place people above processes, take initiative, bring ideas forward, convince others, and so on.

These are the leadership qualities. They are not based on titles, but mutual trust, respect and power of arguments. In these environments, the Taylor’s world is upside down. The traditional leaders / managers, are taking more facilitating role and following the wish of the teams. I have become part of this, in the past 15 years, and will never leave it.

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After I told these 18 year old Hong Kong students about basics of Agile and Scrum, the most interesting thing happened. I’ve received about 100 questions, written on paper. These questions are much different from questions I’ve received in any workshop, training or a masterclass I gave before. At that moment I’ve discovered that if I’m able to answer these questions, I will learn a lot about why we like this thing called Agile and also about myself.

In the following posts, I will try to answer those questions, one by one. The list below will be updated continuously:

11 thoughts on “Agile: Leadership without titles

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