What is the primary responsibility of a leader and why is that so important?
Let’s start by exploring the difference between a leader and a manager.
Managers tend to exist in simple or complicated environments. Their role is to:
- Ensure that things run smoothly, according to a plan.
- Ensure that the team are productive, consistently delivering an output.
- Ensure that the team obey the rules and observe the organizational policies.
- Ensure that the team observe procedures and protocols.
- Create reports on what has happened, is happening, and will happen.
- Supervise that others are doing the work delegated to them.
In essence, they ensure that things get done and get done in a way that is consistent with what executives and leadership teams have delegated.
They aren’t involved in innovation, evolution, or complex problem-solving.
Leaders will lead from the front and/or make every effort to get out of the team’s way and allow them to do great work, unencumbered by micro-management or unnecessary reporting.
Leaders fix problems. They remove impediments that trip the team up and prevent them from achieving their goals and objectives.
They focus on problems that are beyond the control and influence of the team, and they often dedicate themselves to fixing complex problems that require their skills, expertise, and experience.
A great leader will look to first empower teams, and then decentralize decision-making so that the experts in the field, who are actively working at the coalface of the problem, are able to resolve problems quickly and effectively.
In traditional organizations, there may be systemic issues that have created problems for the team over time. A strong leader will actively address those systemic issues and use their power and influence to bring about change that will empower the team to move forward decisively.
They will also look to simplify processes, controls, and systems to liberate the team from unhelpful and unnecessary bureaucracy.
- Is this element of our work or reporting necessary?
- Does this element of our work or system empower or disempower teams?
- Is this the best way to build a product or manage a project?
- Do our systems serve a by-gone era, and can they be modernized to suit our needs?
And so forth.
Engaging with customers.
In the past, frontline staff would interact and engage with customers whilst managers or leaders would be in the background. Progressive managers might want to read reports about those client engagements but many managers consider that engagement or insight unnecessary.
A great leader embraces customer feedback, reviews, and insights.
A great leader actively works with customers and stakeholders to understand:
- What is currently working well?
- What is currently creating problems?
- Is the current product or service creating value?
- Do our systems and processes enable customer satisfaction?
- What could we be working on that will solve a future problem or need?
And so forth.
Really digging deep into the customer environment to understand the challenges, problems, and bottlenecks they face. Really trying to understand how the team and organization can play an active role in creating future value for those customers.
They are committed to witnessing and experiencing how customers and stakeholders deal with the organization, with frontline staff, and members of the product development team.
They view the process of collaboration and cocreation as essential to the health and future success of the organization.
- Engage with call centres and listen in on conversations.
- Attend focus groups and listen to feedback and reviews.
- Join customer reviews to understand how customers engage with the team.
- Keep a finger on the pulse of relationships between customers and team members.
As a leader, it can be easy to get caught up in imagined problems or feedback from the team. Just take time out to engage customers directly and you will get a firm grasp on what you customers perceive to be the most urgent problems and you can move forward effectively from there.
Create a humane work environment.
A great leader will work to create psychological safety.
An environment where your people feel safe and confident to tell you what is happening, why that is problematic, and able to recommend solutions to those problems.
Maybe you are a great leader but the organization itself has created a toxic environment.
You need to work on opening lines of communication, actively walking to the team environment to understand the problems they face, and building a reputation as someone who deals with the problems quickly and effectively.
You want to cultivate and nurture an environment where people are respected, deal with each other openly and honestly, and are inspired to achieve the goals and objectives they commit to.
You want to get the best out of your people by creating an environment where they can safely fail, experiment frequently and consistently, and learn through data and evidence.
When learning becomes the first citizen and people understand that it is safe to use Empirical Process Control – making work transparent, inspecting work frequently, and adapting based on what the data or evidence is showing – to innovate.
These would be my top recommendations for leaders looking to thrive in an agile environment.
About John Coleman
John Coleman has deep experience and expertise working with executives, #leadership teams and product development teams to achieve increased #organizationalagility and create environments where creativity and collaboration produce high-performance teams.
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