Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Guide: Agile Leadership (5) - Capture hearts, don't break them

The fifth and concluding part in this agile leadership series is the question: "What can I do to engage my employees?" The answer is simple: Treat them like human beings. Here are five anti-patterns for managing in an agile environment, including ways to improve your behaviour.

Will you break or warm a heart today?

A prophet in his own land

Managers are often tempted to listen to big ideas coming from reputable consultants, industry thought leaders - or, in general, specialized trainers for certain topics. On the other hand, they completely ignore the knowledge and expertise that already exists in their own company. A very sad, yet recurring theme in many corporations is that consultants simply ask employees "What would you do?", then sell these ideas with their consulting brand logo at a hefty markup. Management applauds these ideas and wonders why nobody ever thought of that before. Those who came up with the original idea are then commanded to implement it without any reward. Yet another, similar recurring theme is to send people to expensive, pre-concocted trainings where they learn little or nothing of relevance, all the while ignoring all the valuable knowledge and expertise these people possess.

When you hired people, you probably did that because they were good. Rather than treat them as inventory, find out what else they can do and how else they can contribute. Harness the creative potential of your existing workforce.

Putting people down

There is no better way of making employees leave than to put them down. It does not matter if this happened publicly or privately, intentionally or unintentionally - the effect is equally devastating. A single inconsiderate statement, such as "You know, you really need to start learning from others." can do an inconceivable amount of damage to a relationship. You may be unaware of where a person's threshold is, but once they feel that you do not trust them or they can not trust you, they have no choice other than leave your company, regardless of how valuable their contribution may be and how much they like the work.

A word, once spoken, is impossible to re-capture. You have no right to judge others on partial information, much less do you have the right to put them down. Learn to be cautious of what you say- Remember that business objectives can only be attained in an environment of trust.

Exploiting feelings

People are not machines, and they have feelings, too. It may be tempting to utilize people's feelings to achieve specific goals. For example, you can play on a developer's pride in their workmanship to get them to do overtime, maybe to exhaust themselves to the point of burn-out. However, none of that is sustainable and all of it will usually result in broken trust.
While you should not treat your employees like machines, you should never use their feelings against them in any form or fashion.

As an agile leader, you need to be aware of the emotions of those around you and understand the impact of their emotions on their work. An important part of your work is to cherish those with negative feelings and build collaboration on positive feelings.

Unfair Comparisons

People are different. Everyone has a different background. Probably the worst thing you can do to someone's morale is hold something against them that they had no control over. For example, "Why do you think Tim is a better Scrum Master than me?" - "Because we sent Tim to a Certified Scrum Master course, and you don't have that certificate." - well. By comparing based on what opportunities people had rather than on what they did from there, you end up completely discrediting whatever effort someone has put into their career. By holding people's opportunities they never had against them, they will be very reluctant to take any second-class opportunities.

Base your esteem of a person based on what opportunities they had and what they made out of that.


Probably the most effective way to destroy morale is by playing favorites and showing obvious bias. There is a proverb, "Proximity creates trust", and it is easy to show preference to those who are closer to you than others. By basing business decisions on proximity, you encourage lobbying and partiality. Actually getting work done becomes irrelevant: Your company structure will turn sour, and once you reap these behaviours, it will be very difficult to revert.

As an agile leader, never decide when you have only heard one side of the story, even if it was related by your closest and dearest coworkers. Spend time to find out both sides of the story and be slow in judgment. Never let any partiality or bias show.


What sounds trivial can be very hard in practice: People have feelings. In a human workplace, you better take heed of that. Mending broken trust is impossible, cheering up a person who has been discouraged takes a lot of time.
Now is a good time to stop all the behaviours that can devastate a person's feelings, and start thinking of ways to cherish those around you.

No comments:

Post a Comment