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David Chilcott on Growing Agile Leaders

Posted by Shane Hastie on Mar 13, 2016 |

At the Agile New Zealand Conference David Chilcott, from Outformations in California gave a talk on Growing Agile Leaders (The Inconvenient Truths).

InfoQ: David, welcome, thanks for taking the time to talk to us today. You’ve just done a pretty interesting talk on growing Agile leaders and you presented people with some interesting challenges; you in fact subtitled it “The inconvenient truths”. What are some of these inconvenient truths and why are they inconvenient? 10

David Chilcott: That’s a great question, I think that the first one is simply that we, as people who aspiring to deepen our own leadership capabilities, we like to know things, we like to have models, we like to understand and that understanding, while necessary, is insufficient, we also have to do work about how we manage our own experience and capabilities and how do we respond more resourcefully to the situations that we find ourselves in.

InfoQ: So, as a leader, what does that mean, what do I have to do? How do I become mindful of my own behavours?

Chilcott: Let’s define what we mean by leadership for a moment: in the Agile space I think leadership is insuring that things go well for everyone, I think it means that we are continuously behaving in ways that increase the likelihood of a successful outcome, and that we are optimizing for the delivery of value congruent with Agile values and principles. For me that’s what Agile leadership is.

InfoQ: That’s a role, that’s not a job title.

Chilcott: That’s right! in fact I believe that leadership must exist at every level of the organization; I think that leadership is everyone’s job, regardless of your role or position in the organization. It’s possible for everyone to behave in leaderful ways, regardless of role and in a sense we are essentially inviting people on Agile teams to be self-organizing which needs to be not in a leaderless team, but a leaderful team.

Everybody is growing their capabilities to be more present in the moment, to respond effectively, to the challenges that we face. In my experience, almost all of the challenges in software world were never really deeply technical, they were almost always cultural and communication challenges or fails that take place and that limit our ability to get valuable work done.

InfoQ: Hence the heavy focus on the manifesto on things like individuals and interactions and collaboration.

Chilcott: Yes and my experience is that people understand that but don’t understand how to live inside that, how to act in a way that’s deeply congruent. That’s part of the message or the value of The LeadershipCircle that I introduced, because it does a very good job of categorizing and making that understandable, which then becomes a sign post for people to use and do their personal work, if you are finding that you are, like in my case, complying, then it is my personal work to become more willing to speak up, to respond less out of fear and more out of empowering the right kinds of connections that support a team, an organization, or me getting work done.

InfoQ: Can we talk briefly about the tool, the leadership 360 tool that you took the audience through, you roughly split it into four areas really, you call the creative, reactive, and then there is relationship and task, can you distinguish those for us please?

Chilcott: Sure, essentially there is a large collection of dimensions that I had us walk thorough.

Take a look at the diagram to see the categories and sub-categories.

(Click on the image to enlarge it)

They take each of the main categories and further divide them up into three to five or six sub-areas. You complete the online assessment by answering a series of survey questions, and then you also send it to others to rate you using the same questions – in my case I think I sent it to fifteen or sixteen people I know, some people who are my peers and some people who are my mentors, some people who have worked for me, and they rate me as well, and then it shows the distinction between my self-rating and how other people see me.

In some sense the northern hemisphere of the circle the creative represents those aspects of how we respond to the world in a creative way, about creating a vision and about moving towards it powerfully, the reactive hemisphere is related to those things that we do that are less resourceful, based on our particular style. Complying, protecting or controlling are the names for particular styles and there are subcategories that are going to make more useful distinctions. The left-hand and right-hand sides of the model, Relationship and Task respectively, is where you get more information about your relationships with others, you’re working on the left hand side of the model, or if you are wanting to become more effective at delivering work you’re on the tasks side.

It is basically divided in a way that allows you to look at various categories of work and when you receive the results you can see, like in my case my Results were much lower than I expected and my Relationships were much higher than I expected, for me that was a signal that I am really good at creating and maintaining relationships and I am less effective at getting people and myself to actually deliver the work.

InfoQ: Getting stuff done.

Chilcott: Getting stuff done.

InfoQ: You took the audience dealing with their reactive responses, in the complying, protecting and controlling areas, so what are the important or key elements of each of those; you did say that there were some positives and some potential negatives to them as well.

Chilcott: I think for me the real challenge is less about the model, there is lots of information available online about it and more about inviting people to enter into a personal inquiry to notice what was resonant for them, so again this is the distinction between doing and being, or understanding and sensing. My intention was to help each person to create a vibrant and resonant sense of what their own style might be, that informs them in terms of creating strategies for how and what they are doing. So, in my case someone spoke to me after the session and said “Oh I am so glad to hear that you are complying also because I am struggling with that, what suggestions do you have?” and I will share what I said to him. In terms of recognizing that as a style that is my “go to” place, I am compliant which means that when I am a little tired and lack inner resource, it feels even more important that people like me and so I don’t speak up in the face of power or in the face of somebody who I am expecting to smack me down. What I suggested to him was to start by simply writing down those things that arose in him that he didn’t say, just to make a list and at first it’s not even about saying them, it’s about choosing simply not closing down and allowing what needed to be said to become conscious. And then to begin experimenting with, after he has done that for a while, to begin experimenting with actually speaking some of those things out loud and see what happens. We can use the same inspect and adapt cycle for doing our own internal work, the emotional work which I think is a strong part of what needs to happen. In my experience we’re pretty good at technology, we’re pretty good at understanding stuff, we’re pretty smart generally speaking, software and technology folks, where we lack fluency is in the emotional intelligence side of things, things like personal self-awareness, system awareness, emotional intelligence.

InfoQ: Having been through the session it was at times uncomfortable to hold up that mirror.

Chilcott: I am curious, would you share what was uncomfortable for you?

InfoQ: Yes, you asked us to examine a particular incident, choose an incident from our recent past and I chose one, and I looked at how I had responded and my default sits between, given what you’ve taken us through, between protecting and controlling, and how that had impacted somebody close to me. And yes looking at that mirror was uncomfortable.

Chilcott: So I love hearing that and I think in particular what I enjoy hearing is that it invited you into a real inquiry and that IS the work. Becoming more resourceful in this case is to recognize when we are being triggered, and behave differently than we would coming purely out of that triggered state. I’ve been married for a long time and I recognize that these are issues that my spouse and I address on a regular basis.

InfoQ: Yes, and just some simple advice and some simple tools to help, I think the term is mindful.

Chilcott: Also let’s be clear that this was just such a light touch, a taster. I mean the instrument itself is multi layered and the instrument itself is a lot in the knowing space of mind but more importantly, it supports a much deeper inquiry based on real information. So it’s my opinion that in general in most organizations, at least the ones I came in contact with, there’s such a shortage of true and honest feedback mostly because we are not very skillful at it, I believe, there is certainly room to grow, we can become more skillful at it. Any time I’m teaching a course for Agile coaches, or team members or whatever, when we start getting into giving and receiving real feedback it’s like people who have been lost in the desert and suddenly there is water. Often we have a painful history, we are used to being damaged by the feedback we receive, because it’s painful or unskillfully given and yet we really do want that information.

InfoQ: We want it, we need it.

Chilcott: Yes.

InfoQ: David, thank you, it’s been really good to catch up, and enjoy the rest of the conference.

Chilcott: Thank you.

About the Interviewee

David Chilcott has an unusual set of skills that encompasses both the deeply technical and the deeply human aspects of software development. In addition to his background as a system architect and software developer,David holds a degree in group dynamics, and has completed formal training in creative problem solving, advanced facilitation, Innovation Games facilitation, non-violent communication (NVC), conflict resolution, Co-Active Coaching, Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching (ORSC) and the CTI Leadership Program. His passionate focus on collaboration and clear communication supports effective Agile business consulting, leadership and management coaching, and team facilitation, training, and coaching.

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