The Eight Stances of a Transformational Leader

Inspired by Barry Overeem’s 8 Stances of a Scrum Master, I have been talking about (and will again at the upcoming Agile Kanban Istanbul and UnlimitedAgility conferences) the eight stances of a transformational leader. I’ll be publishing my own white paper with a fuller explanation, but for now here’s a snapshot.

First, I use the term stance in the sense of “a mental or emotional position adopted with respect to something.” So it’s not a title or a role, but a way of being in a particular context. By transformational leader, I mean simply anyone working in a VUCA environment who, as Amy Edmondson says, plays a role in creating and nurturing the culture we all need to do our best work.

  • Organizational Refactorer: Like refactoring in programming, refactoring is a technique for restructuring an existing work environment by altering its internal structure without changing its external behavior. It’s the act of making small-J-curve, kaizen changes to reduce friction (caused by accidental complexity) and make it easier for people to do their jobs. As the goal of refactoring code is clean code, the goal is a “clean” organization.
  • Strategy Deployer: This is the act of setting direction and providing clarity of mission to foster organizational improvement in which solutions emerge from the people closest to the problem. The goal is aligned autonomy and a leader-leader culture.
  • Anzeneer: This portmanteau coined by Josh Kerievsky means “safety engineering.” That is, we need to protect people by establishing psychological and physical safety in everything from relationships to workspaces, codebases to processes, products to services.
  • Coach: Coaching is teaching others to be leaders and building an organization that can sustain its success. As Jeffrey Liker says, leaders are responsible for creating an environment in which future leaders can blossom.
  • Environmentalist: An environmentalist holistically (re)creates and stewards the environment in which people grow, with particular awareness of context or organizational “terroir.” Just like a winemaker will fail if he or she tries to grow a certain grape varietal in a place that is very different from another, so too will an organizational leader fail if he or she attempts cookie-cutter solutions or to install frameworks or initiatives irrespective of culture or context.
  • Experience Designer: Similar to the experience design of products, this is means consciously creating meaningful interactions centered on the employee, with particular focus on intrinsic motivation (mastery, autonomy, purpose); “alleviating people’s problems and bringing them joy.”
  • Experiment Curator: An experiment curator models and celebrates behaviors and creates the environment for employees to learn and share learning through experimentation. It’s basically creating a place for others to learn in.
  • Flow Manager: Taken from the Kanban Method, flow management means to optimize the end-to-end flow of value in a system. Leaders need to make visible and look after wait flow as much as work flow, actively reducing dependencies and managing the system for smooth, fast flow, rather than utilization.
StanceIn three words
1. Organizational RefactorerReduce accidental complexity
2. Strategy DeployerLeader-Leader culture
3. AnzeneerMake safety prerequisite
4. CoachEnable over do
5. EnvironmentalistPassion for “terroir”
6. Experience DesignerDesign for engagement
7. Experiment CuratorFoster learning culture
8. Flow ManagerOptimize the whole

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