InsightaaS: Cutter Consortium is an IT advisory firm focused on software development and Agile project management. Cutter’s blog site site presents “opinions on and reactions to what’s happening in business technology.” In this post, senior consultant Jens Coldewey looks at the difference between two leadership models: “heroic” leadership, in which “managers fight at the edge of their own abilities,” and “post-heroic leadership,” which is characterized by “a routine of continuous improvement.” Heroic leaders are action-oriented, while “more than 50% of post-heroic leaders do regular exercises in self-reflection.” Most managers – 85%, according to statistics quoted in the post – take a heroic approach to their jobs. However, according to Coldewey, “Agile organizations are far more compatible with a post-heroic leadership culture than with a heroic one.” Coldewey’s conclusion is that “an Agile transition is more a matter of changing the leadership culture than of implementing a new process.” This puts the onus for success squarely on senior management: as Coldewey says, by “demonstrating both self-reflection and post-heroic leadership, they significantly influence the success of an Agile adoption.”
If you only adopt one practice of Agile, adopt retrospectives. The rest will emerge from that. This is old wisdom among Agilists, and back in the early 2000s, Cutter Senior Consultant Alistair Cockburn boiled down his Crystal Clear method to “Iterate and Reflect.” I thought everything of interest had already been written on this topic – until I was involved recently in a mostly failed transition during which this was a major topic.
Looking at leadership models, you find the concept of post-heroic leadership where the heroic leader solves problems by either being the expert him or herself, or an “achiever” who pushes others to solve the problem. The post-heroic leader works by providing the context for others in which they can solve the problem. In his book Leadership Agility, Bill Joiner emphasizes the importance of self-reflection for post-heroic leadership. According to his studies, Joiner states that more than 50% of post-heroic leaders do regular exercises in self-reflection, such as meditation or supervision, while fewer than 10% of heroic leaders do regular self-reflection.
This correlation is not a big surprise. Post-heroic leadership implies a routine of continuous improvement, and improvement needs reflection. Because the only thing you can really change is your own behavior, regular self-reflection helps you become more effective as a leader…