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Leadership Fit for the 21st Century: Intent-based Leadership

by Ben Linders on Mar 03, 2016 |

This third and last post in the series on leadership fit for the 21st century covers the keynote given by David Marquet at the evening seminar on leadership fit for the 21st century about intent-based leadership and the leader-leader model.

When he was in command of the Santa Fe Marquet witnessed that when he gave a bad order, people still did it. Since giving better orders wasn’t an option, as he didn’t know the ship well enough (he was trained to command a different ship) he had to look for another solution.

InfoQ did a Q&A with David Marquet on applying intent-based leadership in agile, in which he explained the leader-leader model:

The idea behind leader-leader is that each person is thought of, and thinks of himself or herself, as a leader. That means they make decisions and take responsibility for those decisions. At the same time, everyone is a following of the principles and purpose of the organization, including the "leader." This differs from many organizations where the idea is I follow you and you follow the boss and the boss decides what is best. With Leader-Leader the boss is accountable for following the organizational principles just as much as everyone else.

Leadership starts at the moment you leave said Marquet. You have to give up control to enable leadership at all levels:

First give people a bit of control and see what they do with it. Have conversations. For example, if they come to you with a problem and are not yet at the "I intend to..." stage, ask them what they would do if they had to decide how to solve that problem on their own and let them tussle with the problem for a bit -- if even only 30 seconds. That’s when you’ll learn what the gaps in competence and clarity are.

Marquet stated that you have to support control with clarity and competence. Training is the key for getting more responsibility and authority. Also people have to feel trusted to make decisions. Putting people under stress won’t help, stress kills people.

When you are shifting control you have to take small steps said Marquet. He talked about the ladder of leadership, an approach for giving control to people. The lowest level of control is where people are being told what to do. Going up the ladder of leadership people will move from thinking and suggesting on what to do to intent-based leadership. On the highest levels people are fully in control on what they do.

We tried to fix the performance assuming that people will be happier, which didn’t work said Marquet. At first you have to make people happy, then the performance will improve.

The first post in this series on leadership fit for the 21st century titled covers the talk given by Hendrik Pothof and Michael Bres about leadership challenges in an agile environment, the second post covers Jenni Jepsen’s talk about why empowering people is impossible.

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