The Accidental Manager

(These statements are strictly personal and are not those of any Company or Organization)

By my nature I am a very competitive person. I love to win. At school I would compete for grades, in sport I had to win – second was the fastest loser, on my way home on my bike I would race the bus. Everything was a competition. This mentality served me well- up to a point.

I couldn’t help but to carry this mentality into my approach to work. When I started my career I moved up the technical ranks and as a reward I was made a manager. It made sense – anyone good with technology must be equally good with people! I became the “Accidental Manager”.

I performed my manager role with the same rigour and, after a series of challenging projects, I developed a reputation for delivery. I had many people reporting to me, I led the way and told them what to do. All was well.

Then Mom died.

Grief does funny things to a person. To distract myself, I started a competition with my brother (who was nearly as competitive as me) about the number of people who would come to mom’s funeral for me versus him. He won. I didn’t need my whole hand to count the number of people who came from work. I realized I was not very well liked, I was a (insert your favourite swear word here!)

What you call me?

Hopefully, it doesn’t take a death in the family for most of us to realise that we have a problem with the way we behave and interact with our people.

You usually don’t rise up the leadership ladder in an organisation without doing the leadership training. I did all the training. I did DISC profiling and found myself to be very directing and controlling, my preferred conflict handling style was competing and I had 360 feedback telling me about my controlling and directing tendency. I was arrogant enough to still believe that my way was the best way so I choose not to change and to carry on regardless. In my opinion, this is the worst kind of accidental manager and I was a prime example.  I was aware but didn’t care.

I nearly wore out that mirror of mine after mom’s funeral. I had a lot of thinking and self-reflection to do. Shortly after I swallowed the “Red Pill” and my transformation began.

Did you ever hear the phrase that there is a difference between “Doing Agile and Being Agile”? In agile coaching it is as common a phrase as “think out of the box” or “move the needle” or my favourite “I have a fantastic opportunity for you”. I heard the phrase many times but never really paid attention to it. Doing agile is comparatively easy. Being agile can involve you fundamentally changing as a person – both inside and outside of work. People will notice the difference!

We can all eat carrots but that’s not the same as being a vegetarian!

Being agile is a mindset change. Many people new to agility will study the agile manifesto and look at the agile principles. Some people will have to change their mindset to accept some of these. The concept of delivering working software frequently instead of at the end does require a mindset change for many. A lot of these people believe that once they have changed their mindsets to get their heads around these principles then they are “being” agile.

However, being agile is about a much deeper mindset change. I have talked about many of these in previous blogs, and will talk about a few more in upcoming blogs.

Being agile (or vegetarian!)” starts with you. You need to decide that you are going to swallow that red pill.

If you are taking part in an agile transformation then you need to accept that this is NOT something that you can delegate, it starts with you. Both you and the organisation will transform.

After swallowing the pill you will go on your journey of self-awareness and realise the impact you, your appearance, your attitude and your behaviours have on those around you. Part of this journey involves opening your mind to find your unconscious biases and accepting if you have a fixed or growth mindset and a passion for continuous learning and improvement. Another part involves admitting how you view trust and how trustworthy a person you are perceived to be.

This journey of self-awareness is emotional; accepting how you are perceived is not for the faint hearted. I’m not an emotional person, I don’t do hugs! It took me nearly 5 years going out with my wife before I would hold her hand in public and I am reminded every day about “opportunities for self-improvement” (thanks @cunningham, clodagh, @lohan, tom). You can imagine how difficult this exercise could be. I believe most people would find this tough but for an accidental manger set in his ways this is daunting.

Once you are aware, the next step is to take action. At this point many of us give up. We don’t like what we see, we don’t accept what we hear, we revert to our comfort zone and our fixed mindset.

Being agile” accepts these personal truths for what they are and puts a plan in place to change as a person.

The good news is that not all managers are accidental managers. Now, more than ever, people are working on their development plans and deciding that management / leadership is a path they want to take. We have great programs in place to help this journey. Also, not all accidental managers are as emotional challenged as I was so everyone’s starting point is different but most leaders have steps to take.

Let’s think about this. Most leaders have attended training and get regular feedback. We are more aware than ever of our leadership styles and the impact we have on those around us. But how many of us have made a conscious decision to change? How many refuse to accept the messaging and continue to lead in the same way, how many of us are aware but do not care?

It might seem a bit harsh, but taking that first step and deciding to change is the most important step. Think of the last time you had a conversation with a passionate vegetarian about why they are a vegetarian – every time I have this conversation I walk away amazed at their passion and drive. I understand, I am aware of why they are doing it but I don’t care enough for me to be a vegetarian! I make excuses about needing protein and justify my way to myself and continue to enjoy my burger. No one can make me a vegetarian unless I decide this is something I want to do.

If you think about an organisation as a complex system of people, and each one needing to go through a level of self-reflection and change to be agile then it is easy to understand why many agile transformations take so long, don’t reach their full potential or even fail.

In my experience, the key to a successful transformation is “being agile” at every level in the organisation, starting at the top. It might sound corny, but as leaders we need to “be the change we want to see”, we need to be agile.

Be the change, Be agile! Nice slogan for an agile transformation – or a T-shirt!

What do you think?

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