In the Commons today Keir Starmer accused Boris Johnson of being a serial opportunist, this struck a cord with me. When Boris deliberated over whether to join the leave or remain campaigns a few years ago he was accused of the same thing. Hedging his bets to get him on the “winning” team. His main personal ambition was to become the Prime Minister. He is competitive and driven.
Interestingly during my journey of many different organisations I see a similar pattern among those leading the evolution of ways of working. This change in an organisation normally necessitates new roles, strange new job titles, new responsibilities and for some a salary increase and a new found spotlight from those above.
These Agile transformations usually span all aspects of the organisation and often the future prosperity of the organisation depends on it. We often start to discuss how organisations have far less certainty in meeting their commitments to customers and shareholders and as such need to become more experimental in approach; a “learning organisation” is the popular new description i.e. understanding that we will never know everything. Achieving the vision is not guaranteed and even the strategic intent might not be correct. Terrifying.
Given the importance of this change in ways of working and the experimental nature of what’s required, this leap in culture and mindset; why is it so often that the changes made are done in such a fixed and absolute way? A hierarchy change, new roles, methodology roll outs, training and new tooling. Success can quickly become about the tangible output and less about the hypothesised outcome. Less about learning and experimenting and more about time spent, commitments made and cost.
It takes a pretty strong leader to stick to the values and principles, to value people and culture over processes and tools. Which brings me to my point. The role of the opportunist in the demise of the “agile transformation”. The senior or middle manager who notices the importance placed on greater agility, who has no real understanding or care for the principles, or the curiosity to make a change, and the selfless leadership style required. They just see the opportunity for greater importance placed on them, often financial rewards and a further step up the career ladder.
Being a leader in an agile organisation requires increasingly high levels of self awareness and the ability to adapt, to place high levels of trust on your teams. To give away credit when good things happen and to shield teams from negativity and blame when issues occur, allowing teams to reflect and improve.
It’s so very very different to how we have all been trained for years when managing people; it’s less about having direct “reports” , giving orders and being expected to know all the answers and more about having a duty of care over people. A responsibility to make it your mission to help them to be the best they can be and remove obstacles and support however you can.
Without the leader being driven by the agile values and principles, their sometimes controlling behavior can in fact smother the selfless, self sustaining culture you are trying to create. Lots of money is spent on new tools, roles and technology and it can feel that very little has actually changed. The culture remains unaffected.
Leadership has never been more important.
Next time a new role comes up that is aiming to help improve your agility and culture, ponder if it’s simply a promotion, a selfish act or if you truly believe in the values and principles.
I’d sooner have a selfless, self aware leader riddled with the impostor syndrome than a selfish, controlling opportunist.
Remains to be seen which one Boris is.
I’d love to hear about your experiences as leaders through change and how the roles and expectations are evolving. We all need to support each other in what can be a difficult and ongoing transition.