Monday, February 07, 2005

Agile & Transformational Leadership

Being a Scrum practitioner and an “evangelist” of agile practices, I cannot help but notice the parallels between Agile approaches and recent leadership theory.

Key themes that exist within Scrum when you’re living it, are the self-organisation of the team, the role of Scrum master as a facilitator or service provider, and the product owner establishing and driving the vision of the solution.

These themes provide a fundamentally different environment for teams to exist in compared to more traditionally structured projects.

Transformational leadership as defined by Bass & Avolio is concerned with three distinct leadership traits:

  • Charismatic/Inspirational - inspiring and aligning others by providing a common purpose allied with optimism about the ‘mission’ and its attainability
  • Intellectual Stimulation – encouraging individuals to challenge the status quo, to consider problems from new or unique perspectives and to be innovative and creative
  • Individualised Consideration – a genuine concern for individuals’ feelings, aspirations and development. They pay special attention to each individual’s needs for achievement and growth, they coach and mentor. Followers are treated differently and equitably.

Conversely Bass & Avolio describe Transactional Leadership as being concerned with:

  • Contingent Reward – encouraging specific performance and behaviours by making rewards contingent on delivery
  • Management by Exception – only intervening actively when a delegated task or function is failing to conform to expectations

The transformational elements abounded within the last project I was engaged in, and I believe it is through following the rules of Scrum that both the social and physical environments can be created that foster these traits.

Many Agile guru’s have been expounding the benefits of agile approaches.

Through the studies of Bass & Avolio (1996) they made the following conclusion:
Transformational leadership has significantly greater impact than transactional leadership on the organisation, and produces the following advantages:

  • Higher commitment, effort, performance and job satisfaction of followers
  • Lower levels of stress and burn out
  • Greater employee innovation, harmony & good citizenship
  • Improved financial performance of organisations

Coincidentally, if I had to summarise the benefits of agile approaches it wouldn't be far away from these four points.

Transformational leadership is not something you can learn overnight, nor can it be taught. But… for those wanting to get the four key benefits I’ve detailed above, you could do a lot worse than following the Scrum methodology.

Scrum helps to create the environment within which a team (with supportive leadership) can grow and attain those benefits.

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