Agile Leaders: Keep the Focus on Value

This weekend, I had the honor of announcing a state championship swim meet for younger kids. There were tons of parents and grandparents present to watch. Well-intentioned, but over-enthusiastic parents and grandparents. It reminds me of those leading and supporting Agile adoption. It is possible to push too far, too hard.


The Whistler

If you’ve experienced a kid’s swim meet, you definitely have seen this parent or coach. When their athlete is competing, especially in breaststroke events, they whistle loudly each time the swimmer’s head pops out of the water. The swimmers have been training all year long without anyone whistling at them; they know what to do. The intent of The Whistler is to motivate their swimmer, but face it: the swimmer has a cap over her ears and probably can’t hear the whistle, and should be 100% focused on the race. Besides, after the 10th whistle, is anyone is listening anymore?

Hopefully, Agile leaders don’t whistle at their teams, for that would break all sorts of rules. Yet, are you so anxious to help that you end up repeatedly distracting the team? Your team is well trained and organized to get the work done. But if they are chronically distracted by you, soon they won’t hear you at all. Like the swimmer with the cap over her ears…

For example, in a team setting, are you speaking first, instead of allowing members of the team to discuss? Are you so concerned the team won’t think of what you’re thinking of, that you push your way into the conversation? By waiting to speak, the team can self-organize around the problem. You may even find that by the end of the discussion, your original concern became irrelevant.

The Shouting-Waver

Also very common at these championship meets are parents who try to encourage their child one, last time, right before the start of the event. The athlete is on the starting block, focused and ready to spring into action, and then a parent shouts “GO BRANDON!” as loud as they can. So much for “quiet at the start.” Today, I noticed more madness: while eight year olds were standing on the starting blocks, waiting to hear the start command from the official, a parent stood on the other side of the pool, waving to their child with both arms. The intentions were good, but these behaviors create far more distraction than motivation. These swimmers have practiced starts hundreds of times, all of them without someone waving at them or shouting their name as loud as possible.



As an Agile leader, are you so enthusiastic to help, that you actually get in the team’s way? They are highly skilled and trained to develop and deliver spectacular customer value. You are a successful servant leader and guardian of continuous improvement. Both are great privileges with responsibilities. But their meeting is not your meeting. And, your job of removing large barriers and being a heat shield is not theirs.

Take time and reflect on where you are, and where you want to be. Enlist a coach or work with a mentor to raise your game. Your team deserves your best intentions, and the ability to hold their focus, from start to finish of the race.

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