Accelerative Leadership – Getting Rid of What Slows You Down

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Although working in an agile way is frequently regarded as being something for autonomous teams, it also has leadership consequences. Performing the task of leadership properly in this new context, is often a true journey of discovery. At a recent breakfast session, Quint partner and principal consultant Niels Loader spoke about the not-insignificant challenges of agile leadership. It’s all about what he calls ‘accelerative leadership’: getting rid of things that slow down your organization.

This type of leadership is not an unnecessary luxury, as the figures Loader presents clearly show: “Employee satisfaction is important. But you need more than that – you must have employee engagement.” Loader describes how, worldwide, only 13 percent of employees actually engage with their work. Three-quarters of employees who depart, do so because they are dissatisfied with their manager. Loader: “The reason for this is a mismatch between what we expect from teams – a lean-agile way of working – and the leadership style of managers.”

Three factors that counteract change

Niels Loader is aware of three arguments against change that leaders use: a rational argument, a behavior argument and the ‘other argument’ (more about that one later).

The rational argument basically says that we have to deliver as much IT as possible, as efficiently as possible while keeping costs as low as possible. Mass production, in other words. Loader uses the automotive industry to clearly illustrate that this attitude no longer applies to the markets of today. Developments moved the industry from craftsmanship to mass production and then, via the Toyota production system, to lean production (mass customization: teams deliver customer value quickly, in flow).

There are many managers in IT who grew up with ITIL and CMM, models that belong to the mass production era. They are all about specialization and coordination, looking outward from the inside. Since 2010, the demand for IT services has grown exponentially thanks to the rise of smartphones. Today, the IT industry is forced to look from the outside in and deliver customer value quickly. To this end, Agile, DevOps and Lean IT are essential. These methodologies provide more speed, effectiveness, efficiency and quality. Loader: “In the 20th century it was this or that, today it’s this and that.”

Behavior: enhance flow

Logically, when the production method changes so quickly and we expect more from our teams, the leadership style will also change. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. The development should be a move away from planning, organizing and controlling to more forward thinking. And this brings us to the behavior argument. The tasks of leaders today include purpose, cascading and monitoring. So, not controlling but rather staying informed. The tasks are set out in Figure 1. Niels Loader summarizes leadership tasks in a lean organization as follows: “Every organization delivers customer value as quickly as possible. Leadership tasks are built around this principle, with the goal of enhancing flow. That is accelerative leadership.”

Figure: The Lean-Agile Management System.