Four Kitchens

Brave Agile leadership

4 Min. ReadDigital strategy

So here we are, it’s the summer and things are a little slow. I have some professional development time on my hands. Normally, everyone’s like, “What conference are you going to this year?” But I have a difficult time at conferences because I’m a tactile learner; I just end up fidgeting and missing most of what was jammed into a 45-minute session. So, I decided to take an online course called “Daring Leadership: The Four Pillars of Courage.” As a technical project manager, I am striving to develop better leadership skills.

Brene Brown, author of The Power of Vulnerability, is a researcher and storyteller who teaches about courage, integrity, and vulnerability. She facilitates the “Daring Leadership” course, and her first lesson focuses on courage. She asks “What’s your call to courage?” She uses the metaphor of a cave—what’s the cave you fear entering? You need to be brave to enter your cave, but you first have to give yourself permission to be be brave. I could not think of my cave. I have plenty of fears and hang ups, but what was the cave that I’m truly afraid to enter? I decided to come back to it.

Changing to Innovate

Earlier this year, when I became a Certified Scrum Master, a lot of what I learned about the agile workflow went beyond epics >> user stories >> estimation. What clicked with me was the advocacy and coaching that agile requires of its practitioners. Being a practitioner of scrum is more than producing functional software with a development team—you are advocating to change the way organizations have functioned since Ford created the assembly line. You’re telling organizations that they won’t be successful if they treat knowledge workers like assembly line workers.

Asking an organization to trust that going from being plan-driven to value driven—and valuing people over contracts or due dates—will create amazing results. This can be a huge shift in values, which is what Brene Brown teaches. These are basic principles but they drive deep into the psyche and systemic nature of how a company operates. Scrum teams are here to help create innovative products, and to do that people need to be honest, transparent, welcoming to change, lean, and self-organizing.

Solving problems can be challenging because talking about them makes people vulnerable.

For me, the two key points are transparency and self-organization. The scrum team has to feel comfortable talking to each other about problems because they are the only ones that can solve them. Solving problems can be challenging because talking about them makes people vulnerable. “Daring Leadership” pushes people, not just leaders, to have hard conversations early and often. The qualities needed to be a great innovative leader are the same qualities needed to have a well tuned scrum team. The course gives practitioners the tools to create a transparent and honest work environment.

Motivate with Empathy

When we motivate our scrum teams and organizations to communicate openly, we are helping them become vulnerable. When we help them become vulnerable, we clearly state our values (as laid out in the manifesto,) and we build trust. Brown says that shame needs three things to grow: silence, secrecy, and judgement. I can guarantee that an organization—or a scrum team—that has a shame problem isn’t thriving.

How do we help our teams thrive?  How do we build trust?  With empathy. Empathy requires listening, staying out of judgement, and recognizing accurately what someone is feeling. Empathy takes a lot of practice. I should know, I spend many Saturdays in couples therapy trying to understand and relate to what my partner is feeling. I may think I know, but half the time I’m wrong. We have to learn how to do this within our organizations and teams.

Empathy requires listening, staying out of judgement, and recognizing accurately what someone is feeling.

That’s when I realized what my cave was: I am afraid to go directly to someone when I’m having a problem with something that they are doing. Usually, I think I might be wrong or I may hurt their feelings. Either I don’t trust them to hear me, or I don’t trust my own intuition. How can I foster open, respectful dialogue with the person I am having the issue with? If I come to them constructively when I have a problem they may bristle at first, but soon people will come to know that I am direct and they will trust me to be open and honest with them. Well, that’s easier said than done, but at least I know what my cave is.

The Courage to Change

Changing a company’s values does not happen overnight. Confronting situations with courage and vulnerability is uncomfortable and mistakes will be made. But through our failure, our team can grow together.