How agile leadership relates to “extreme ownership”

Door Patrick Verheij

With my latest post which was titled “why agile teams should get rid of their Scrum Master” I tried to convey a point. That point was both understood and misunderstood by people. So I’ll take another shot at it here because I believe it is extremely important for any person, team or organization working towards more agility.\r\n\r\nHere we go.\r\n\r\nToday I was listening to an episode of Tim Ferris’ podcast featuring Jocko Willink, a former Navy Seal and co-author of a book called “Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win“. In the podcast he was answering questions which were sent in by listeners. One of these questions was about what modern businesses were not addressing enough and thus missing out on. His number one answer: extreme ownership.\r\n\r\nJocko points out that any employee can take up a leadership role by adopting the habit of starting to own problems and then working towards solving them. Even when solving that problem is not directly their responsibility or even within their capabilities.\r\n\r\nNow that’s something, isn’t it?\r\n\r\nI immediately recognized the exact point I was trying to make in my article: we will not need people in dedicated Scrum Master (or similar) roles anymore once we have created an environment in which it is encouraged, safe and possible to take ownership of problems and where people are actually picking up that challenge.\r\n\r\nDavid Marquet, former submarine commander and author of the popular book “Turn the Ship Around” describes a similar thing, encouraging submarine personnel to take ownership and as such create a vessel full of brain power.\r\n\r\nPerhaps you know that Jeff Sutherland, original author of Scrum, also has a militairy background. Yes, there might be a pattern here.\r\n\r\nOf course “taking ownership” may not be enough just by itself. That could quickly degrade an organization into a huge mess where people bash each other’s head trying to solve problems for the simple reasons that problems often contradict each other. New problem will then arise on the level of alignment and communication which will bring the organization to a full stop because everyone is busy both solving problems and creating new ones at the same rate. I know how to be a prophet of doom ;-)\r\n\r\nSo David Marquet combines ownership with a specific commando structure. He expects his personnel to tell him what they intend to do so he can quickly acknowledge that instead of being in their way. He now teaches people the increasingly popular game of “delegation poker“, just like Jurgen Appelo, the author of “Management 3.0“, does\r\n\r\nJocko describes other prerequisites. Anyone on the team must believe in the mission is one as is the notion that teams should collaborate towards mutually beneficial outcomes. Besides that, plans should be kept simple and people should work on priorities. And we all already know those drills from our books about agile, don’t we?\r\n\r\nHelping people to recognize and acknowledge problems is one of the key things I do in my job as an agile coach. From there I help them analyse these problems properly before they can take ownership and experiment with possible solutions. Besides that, I must constantly be aware of any problems I encounter myself and be sure that I keep owning these to set the example.\r\n\r\nI hope my article resonates with you. If that is the case, we can contribute to creating a different corporate environment where results are much easier to obtain and people gain much more satisfaction from their jobs.\r\n\r\nTake a look at what else I am writing if you wish.

Patrick Verheij

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