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Becoming a Catalyst, Part One

Agile Transformation efforts are characterized by change: new practices, new processes, new technologies, and often a new culture. While direction for this may come from the top down or be a grass-roots led effort, one thing is certain, your organization will need everyone working towards adopting these changes. To do this effectively means harnessing all […]

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July 26, 2017

Agile Transformation efforts are characterized by change: new practices, new processes, new technologies, and often a new culture. While direction for this may come from the top down or be a grass-roots led effort, one thing is certain, your organization will need everyone working towards adopting these changes. To do this effectively means harnessing all the people in your organization. So how do you effectively include everyone? And if the Agile transformation is a grass-roots effort; how can one lead from that position?

I encourage people that want to lead change to think of themselves as catalysts. A catalyst is a substance added to a chemical reaction to reduce the energy required and/or increase the rate of change to produce the material desired. From a people perspective, we need leadership that can reduce the energy and effort to introduce changes or increase the rate of effective change in the organization. So how do we do this?

Anyone & Everyone

First, we need to harness anyone and everyone. One definition of a leader told by the management guru Peter Drucker is, “The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers.” If we ponder on that for a moment, this means anyone can be a leader if someone is willing to grant you that authority. It may be because of technical knowledge, ability to influence, or simply an insight they communicate effectively. People can be leaders in the moment or may lead for longer periods. In short, anyone can do it.

But how you ask?

Lead, Don’t Wait

This brings us to the second piece and where the leadership is actually exhibited. Leaders don’t ask permission. I’m not suggesting that anyone can run off and define a new business line or reorganize their division. I am, however, suggesting that there are ways to introduce change where permission is unnecessary. And when I say change, I am not meaning manipulation, but as people adopt this pattern, they can latch onto it and use it themselves.

Let’s look at an example. Suppose I am a senior architect that regularly conducts a design session. What small changes can I introduce into that session that influences positive change? Perhaps I can ensure the design session’s purpose is known and that I have an agenda crafted as a set of questions that lead us to fulfilling that purpose. I may introduce an exercise or activity that engages everyone to fulfilling that agenda. Each of these subtly introduces a change and helps create a positive impact. If people willingly follow using these techniques, and particularly if they use some of the concepts themselves, I have exhibited leadership as the people have followed my lead.

Provide the Environment, Support, and Trust

There is a third element to being a catalyst and that is one that can help create an environment, provide support, and gain trust to those where change is needing to occur. That will be covered in a future post. In the meantime, if you would like to learn more, join me at 10:45 AM on Wednesday August 9th when I present on Catalytic Leadership at Agile 2017.

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