Flash Leadership and Agile Teams

In November 2016 I attended Alistair Cockburn’s Advanced Agile Masterclass. Well, I have attended a few but I mean this particular one.

There was a fundamental question that we focused on for much of one  day: If the leaders role in the modern world is becoming more focused on Mentoring, Training, Coaching, Guiding, Facilitating…..where is Managing? Are our expectations of people in hierarchical roles traditionally thought of as leaders changing? Yes – faster than our traditional, enterprise scale organisations can keep pace. 

We spent some time talking about different alternative approaches to leadership including:

The topic of Host Leadership got me thinking further. Grounded in the idea of a party host – stepping forward and back, dancing between hero and servant, from Mark McKergow and Helen Bailey. I have to admit i couldn’t quite align to the theory. I do like the idea of using this new yet ancient metaphor.  In their words “The key role of the host – someone who receives and entertains guests.” But it seemed to get a little complicated as it then divulged into 6 roles. And it seems to still be posited around one individual being always the leader – just taking on different roles as the scenario unfolds. Or the Party carries on into the night.

So I did some thinking on this idea of leadership being more like a task. More ion line with the thinking from Dave Marquet, the idea of Leader-Leader. Leadership based on people recognising there are moments of influence at which point in time they take the mantle of leading – for the time that seems required.

davemarquetBeliefStatment  David Marquet Belief Statement.

As part of this thought bubble, I coined the phrase Flash Leadership. Where although there may still be a traditionally thought of ‘role’ in teams including someone in a formal leadership type position, everyone in the team has the ability, the responsibility, the accountability and the freedom to step up when its apparent they are “The One” – at that moment. Anyone near the work and the problem takes the lead to solve it.

neo the anomaly

When I was younger I spent time in the military. And played a lot of football. There is a well understood and accepted truism in both football and the military – “when its your time to go, you go”.  So how do you know its “your time to go?” And what conditions must be present for someone, anyone, in a team to instinctively know its their time to lead? And for that team to also know and to let it happen? And why has this same idea bobbed up in these two disparate environments? 

Probably because both are heavily reliant on strong, high performing, well trained teams to be successful. In both the Army and on the football field you need people who although have a speciality, need to be a generalist, able to fill multiple roles, be cross functional to succeed. I wrote an article specifically about this here.

There is an alternate view though, where I think Flash Leadership is more apparent, where leadership is essentially ‘decentralised’ and more democratised. There remains a ‘formal’ leadership role for setting the vision and alignment, but day to day ‘leadership’ is undertaken by everyone and anyone near the work at critical event junctures in time, where their skills and ability are the leading ones. Others know to step back at the same moment. 

Loosely aligned with principles of the holocracy and leadership as a task movements, I believe Flash Leadership requires an environment of:

  • Trust;
  • Psychologically safety;
  • Shared power informally;
  • Servant leadership traits;
  • No fear of failure – failing is learning; and
  • Shared accountability.

To borrow and extend on Dan Pinks work on what truly motivates people, teams also require an environment of “CAMP” for Flash Leadership to function and be evident:

  • Connectedness;
  • Autonomy;
  • Mastery; and
  • Purpose.

This concept of decentralised leadership is evident in high performing, long lived agile scrum teams. Where people truly adapt the culture of servant leadership no matter their position. Where we evolve cross functional teams and distribute decision making and take authority to the information, where we have trust. Agile gives us the enabler to achieve the same thing we see in the military in special units, and on the football field in successful teams. The irony is you need a leader in the first place who decides consciously to allow others to lead. And thats a rare but growing phenomenon.

Whats your take on the ability for your teams to create a culture of Flash Leadership? And what can you do to encourage this to grow?



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