Turn The Ship Around – A View Into Agile Leadership

Note: This post is adapted from some posts that I originally created on Adobe’s blog while I was an employee there.

I recently finished reading former U.S. Navy Submarine Commander David Marquet’s book “Turn the Ship Around”.

110802-N-BE353-044 SUBIC BAY, Philippines (Aug. 2, 2011) A pair of tug boats pull the Los Angeles-class fast attack submarine USS Santa Fe (SSN 763) away from the submarine tender USS Frank Cable (AS 40) after a port visit to Subic Bay, Philippines. Frank Cable conducts maintenance and support of submarines and surface vessels deployed in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Ricardo Danan/Released)

SUBIC BAY, Philippines (Aug. 2, 2011) A pair of tug boats pull the Los Angeles-class fast attack submarine USS Santa Fe (SSN 763) away from the submarine tender USS Frank Cable (AS 40) after a port visit to Subic Bay, Philippines. Frank Cable conducts maintenance and support of submarines and surface vessels deployed in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Ricardo Danan/Released)

It is a powerful story of learning what leadership means and the struggles Marquet had putting it into place in his role as commander of the Los Angeles-class fast attack submarine USS Santa Fe (SSN 763). Marquet proposes that Leadership should be defined as:

“Embedding the capacity for greatness in the people and practices of an organization, and decoupling it from the personality of the leader”.

The paradox is that more traditional leadership creates more unthinking followership; less top-down leadership creates more engaged leadership – at every level of an organization. [Read more…]

Peter Drucker understood agile leadership and agility before it even existed!

Management and leadership in the 21st century need to be significantly different or businesses will be left behind. People recognize this and management is slowing changing from what has been known as “Taylorism” or “scientific management” to something that has a variety of names, but the easiest one for me to relate to is “agile leadership.” I remember Certified Scrum Trainer and Coach, Pete Behrens, describing the agile leadership section of the Certified Scrum Coach application by saying something like, “We want coaches that understand agile leadership is both a verb and a noun.” What he meant is we often think of agile leadership as a noun and list behaviors and patterns that identify a style we call agile leadership. As a verb he meant we want leaders that actively lead organizations and people in agile ways. We want there to be evidence of doing Agile (verb) so that we can see the identifiable Agile result (noun). [Read more…]

How Agile Goes Bad, Blame, and Options [Agile Safari]

08 Commit Without Understanding_AgileSafari

Tweet this Agile Safari Cartoon!

Does this sound familiar? We have someone asking the obvious question. “Why would we say we will do something we know we can’t accomplish?” When we hear these questions, too often, we have no mechanism to deal with them. We have not created a protocol to deal with these common situations that always occur. This type of problem needs to be dealt with as soon as it comes up. In the cartoon, I’m talking about creating an agile organization, but it is hard to imagine in any organization that you would want people to just make things up.

How Agile Goes Bad

There are a number of ways agile can go bad. A very common way is people’s lack of a clear protocol for dealing with challenging issues.The causes people to avoid having conversations about them.
[Read more…]

New to Agile? Build trust to grow influence and impact

Transforming the way you work to an Agile approach has implications for the relationship between software teams and their customers and stakeholders. But in many cases, the would-be Agile team’s vision of a better collaborative future is viewed with skepticism, at best. What do you do when you want a more collaborative relationship with your stakeholders and they’re not having it? [Read more…]

The Responsibility Process, Context, and Safety

The Responsibility Process™ is a practice (some may argue it’s more or less than a practice) that helps us move towards more self-mastery. Being able to facilitate ourselves is all about emotional intelligence – our ability to recognize and react appropriately in the moment to our emotions.

The Responsibility Process has been around for quite some time, so I’m still surprised that so few people are aware of it. The Responsibility Process is a structure to become aware of the states we all move through or get stuck in, as we aim to move to a mindset of responsibility. The Process was created by Christopher Avery who spent years researching the idea (you can read more at Christopher Avery’s website or just search Google!).

A Summary

Through years of research, Avery determined that responsibility is not a character trait that some people have and others don’t.


Falling out of the mental state of responsibility does not look quite like this, but it might feel this way!

Responsibility is something that we can see and learn — it is a mental state.

That alone is an interesting concept, since we often say ‘that person is irresponsible.’ Maybe we mean, ‘based on my perception, that person is acting irresponsibly.’? [Read more…]

Scrum as an agent of culture change

peter drucker

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

Attributed to Peter Drucker by Dick Clark, former CEO and Chariman of Merck


Peter Drucker invented most modern management practices. He was an in-demand coach to hundreds of top leaders in the world’s largest organizations. When he suggested that “culture eats strategy for breakfast” to Dick Clark, he wasn’t actually promoting an either/or mindset. He was pointing out that the amount of time most executives spent working on strategy paled in comparison to the amount of time they spent working on culture. Drucker was suggesting that they would be better served by bringing the two into balance:Balancing-Culture-and-Strategy

What is Culture?

A quick Amazon search turns up over 10,000 business and management related books with the word “Culture” in the title. I’ve personally heard dozens of trainers, coaches, and consultants extol the virtues of cultural change. And yet, how do you change culture? Culture is the set of unwritten rules and behaviors that are encouraged and followed in an organization or group. It’s not something that is written down. It’s a deeply engrained, unconscious set of behavior patterns. Agile For All coach Jake Calabrese uses the metaphor of river beds, where years of flowing water carves channels in the earth. No one tells the water where to flow, it simply follows the path of least resistance, reinforcing that path and making it harder and harder for the water to take a different one. It’s possible to change the path that the water flows, but it takes conscious focus, time and effort.


In most organizations with a typical hierarchy, the top leaders have a tremendous influence on the culture of the firm in two ways. First, they decide what to reward and punish by way of financial incentives, promotions, hiring, and firing. Second, they model the behavior that others are expected to follow. Leadership behaviors and beliefs are deeply engrained habits – difficult to change even when done mindfully and with coaching. Think of it like asking someone to change their eating and exercise habits – it’s tough to do for the same reasons. Human psychology creates an infinitely complex set of reward- and punishment-based learned habits, most of which are completely unnoticed. So how do we change culture in an organization?

Check out Part 2 of this series to see some examples of how Scrum can be a pattern for creating sustainable, positive cultural change.

Is Your Training Amazing & Engaging? Or does it Smell?

I find many things puzzling. One that is puzzling, frustrating, and annoying is how people continue to use outdated methods to train.

If you look out at your class and see this, it might mean you have a problem...

If you look out at your class and see this, it might mean you have a problem…

We still have so many people who run an entire training session (half-day, 1 day, 2 day, 3 day, whatever) with students sitting in a dark room staring at slides. When I hear “we have a lot of information to teach, so we need 100s of slides a day”, it makes me physically ill. If this sounds like your training, it might just smell. If you are trying to do training that does not smell and are stuck, read on!

In the past, I’ve certainly taught classes with more slides and words on slides that I should have. I wish I had a time machine, but I don’t! My point is that we can all improve over time, if we choose to. Maybe your training has some engaging modules, but you want to move away from slides or increase retention. There are options! Many trainers I know have even eliminated all slides from their classes. Saying “death by PowerPoint” always gets some laughs, but slides are not always the root cause. The root cause is that many people don’t know how people learn (or maybe some don’t care — but I know a lot of trainers who care a lot!).

Dumping a pile of information on people via massive amounts of wordy slides and lecture is simply not effective! [Read more…]

Marker Fanatics & Facilitating with Great Markers!

Great markers provide you with the option to create many different types of charts, diagrams, and pictures in your training or facilitated sessions. If you don’t use markers in your sessions, that might be a sign you need to make some changes! Visual elements (and hence markers) are a big part of Training From the BACK of the Room, which is openspaceimagea training framework based on the latest brain science, that increases engagement and retention! I’ll talk about markers a bit more as well as other aspects of great training in another post later this week titled, Is Your Training Amazing & Engaging? Or does it Smell? 
[Read more…]

Does Your Culture Require Your Demise? Pig & Chicken 3 [Agile Safari]


Tweet the Agile Safari Cartoon!

Pig & Chicken Part 3 is about the bigger picture. It is about the culture of your organization and about memes that exist within that culture. Beyond just delivering a ranked list of “stuff”, can you commit to being your best self each day?  What does it mean for YOU to commit to the organization? What is expected of you? What do you expect from each other? I’m not just talking tangibly… what does expectation feel like where you work? Is it sustainable?

Recap: Pig & Chicken Part 1 is about letting teams focus and figure out how to do the work. Pig & Chicken Part 1 (the ‘classic’) the pigs are supposed to represent the team and the chickens are supposed to be “everyone else.” In the past, some people compared the chickens to management, and it led to people saying “we have to keep the chickens out” (and much worse). Pig & Chicken Part 2 is about being all in as an organization, so everyone is in sync with the top priorities of learning and delivering value. In Pig & Chicken Part 2, we are either all in this thing together or we aren’t — make a choice and decide what organizational commitment means.  [Read more…]

Scrum as an agent of culture change part 2

In part one of this series, we defined culture. We also described why it is both critical and hard to work on. Finally, we left you with a teaser that there is a pretty good pattern we’ve seen for how to kind of hack your culture for the better.

Scrum as a Culture Change Agent

I have seen a pattern emerge at several organizations where I’ve worked or coached. A team starts using Scrum. When they use it effectively, they start to think differently about the way they work. They build different social structures. They value different outcomes. They alter decision making structures. And the culture starts to change. We are rewarding different behavior, at least for that team. If they can stick with it long enough to solidify the new set of behaviors, the culture change lasts. When those teams are successful, other teams in the organization start wondering what they’re up to. They learn about scrum, try it out, and if they do it purposefully, the pattern repeats itself. Scrum becomes an organizational change agent.Scrum-Culture-Spread [Read more…]