CHOW #272: Transitioning to an Agile Leader

Padma works as a Project Manager in the IT division of one of the reputed retail organizations. She has always been quite ambitious and loved to take risks. She was one of the go-to Managers when it comes to taking up new and complex projects. Because of her risk appetite and her ability to execute ruthlessly, she very quickly went up the corporate ladder. While she earned all the accolades as a high flying Manager and the Org leadership loved her for that, she was not very popular among her team members. She came across as very demanding and as some one who lacked empathy. Slowly, these complaints started becoming more prevalent and her achievements as someone who executes ambitious projects started to take a hit as well. She was going through a rough period and was stuck in her career. Her people manager spoke to her during her appraisal, appreciated her skills of bringing Business to the company. However, she was asked to tread carefully when it comes to working with her people and teams. He also mentioned that the next year she should be taking a people-oriented role and that would be her growth area. Padma also accepted the challenge because her career was stuck.

This was also the time that when the organization embarked on a multi-year Agile Transformation. The organization entrusted her to Program Manage the whole initiative. Her Manager as promised had provided her the opportunity to grow. This was quite different from her usual role where she used to manage the business and build relationship with the external stakeholders. Here, she had to build the team and role model Agility. She was also asked to play the role of an Agile Coach so that she is more hands-on when it comes managing the program. I was assigned to coach her team and also guide Padma through her journey of development. I was asked to work with Padma to come up with her development plan.

Now the Challenge for you is if you were the Coach, what are the top 5 areas in your list? While she has to learn a new skill as an Agile Leader, she has to unlearn and give up something that does not help her to build good people relations. What would you propose she works on for the next 6 to 12 months?



1. Embrace Listening for Potential and Suspend Judgment: She should start focusing more on her teams’ strengths instead of finding anomalies. Her earlier roles forced her to be critical. However, now she needs listening for potential and develop trust with her team members.

2. Facilitate Reflection+Awareness and avoid giving advise: She was an expert in technology and also on the domain of Retail business. She was appreciated and promoted exactly because of that demonstrated expertise. However, now she should avoid giving solutions. Her job would now be to support her team to reflect and to help them raise awareness. She should now be OK to accept the solutions that are not hers’.

3. Hold the space and let go of ownership: She should keep working on protecting the team against external interruptions and push the ownership of deliveries to the team. Because the team would be aware of on-the-ground realities, they would be in the best position to problem-solve. She should help them in removing the impediments and in holding them accountable to reach their goals.

4. Focus on Solutions instead of Problems: She should work on guiding the conversations that steer more towards solutioning than delve deeper into the problem domain. This Solution Focus completely removes the drama that results from the problem discussion. Problem discussions make people feel unsafe and hence defeats transparency. Solution-focus not only saves a lot of time but also prevents emotional drain.

5. Shifting the focus from Resource Utilization to Value creation: Accounting for time that her team spends is old school and made some sense for manufacturing work. However, for the knowledge workers, the focus should be more on understanding the business needs and adding value to the stakeholders. So her focus now should be on how do I get the best of this team and help them realize their potential.

Pic Credit: Unsplash – Chris Young

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