Applied Servant Leadership: 6. Purpose

This is the sixth article proper in a series introduced with It’s time to reclaim Servant Leadership. We’re looking at how, in the practical context of Lean-Agile transformation, we take Servant Leadership beyond “serve the team” or “unblock all the things and get out of the way”. Each post corresponds to one of the strategies of our white paper 6+1 Essential strategies for successful Lean-Agile transformation. Get your copy now!

As I observe in the white paper, it seems to be a common failure pattern in Lean-Agile transformations that serious leadership engagement happens only as a last resort, when it becomes apparent that the transformation is losing its way. What has been missing is a serious exploration of the dependencies (in both directions) between the transformation and outstanding organisational questions such its purpose, its values and core assumptions, and the leadership behaviours necessary for success. That this needs to be a two-way thing becomes apparent as soon as you realise that the transformation’s success can’t measured just in its own terms, but in terms also of the future success of the organisation. Why would we go to all that effort otherwise?

It’s a big topic, but here are some key areas you might want to pay some attention to.

The basics

What do you deliver, to whom, and why does it matter?

Can every member of your team answer that question with confidence, both for themselves and for the team as a whole?

After the “what, to whom, and why” question come some “how” questions:

1. How does it work (from the team’s perspective, and including the contributions of other teams and services)?

2. How well does it work (from the customer’s perspective first, but other perspectives are important too)

3. How do we sustain it (an organisational question, and a big one)

Cranking it up a little

How confident would you be to answer those questions on behalf of your peers and seniors? How coherent would be the range of answers? Do you discuss these things, or would your answers be arrived at mainly through observation and guesswork?

Assuming you even have one, how well is your agenda for change aligned to the concerns raised by all of the above? How do you ensure follow-through? At what organisational level is it managed? To whom is it visible? If your organisational feedback loops deal mostly with “issues”, I would hazard a guess that visibility, alignment and follow-through are all weak. Did I guess right?

Digging deeper

Taking together all the changes you’d like to make, are there some common themes? Some common objectives &/or underlying strategies? Core assumptions? Values, even?

Take a few of those, and write some sentences (not questions) that would be “more true” were those themes, objectives, strategies, assumptions, or values to be more fully realised or more consistently demonstrated. For example:

  • We identify dependencies between work items in good time and sequence them accordingly
  • We can afford to make small, frequent, and timely deliveries while still meeting our quality expectations
  • We cooperate throughout the delivery process to ensure the smooth transition of completed work into live use

Would you expect consensus on (1) how true (or otherwise) those statements are now and (2) which are the most important? What actions could you agree that take you towards where you want to be on the most important ones? How do those actions compare to your current agenda for change?

Happily, we’ve done some of that work for you. The examples above are taken from the Agendashift values-based delivery assessment, 43 prompts aligned to values of transparency, balance, collaboration, customer focus, flow, and leadership. We have a well-practised path to agreement on what’s important and what should be done, well-enough practised and sufficiently transferrable that the “we” here now extends to a growing community of partners. Watch out in the coming weeks for news on who they are and how to become one. Exciting times 🙂

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