Years ago, during Bill Clinton’s campaign for the presidency, I watched a town hall meeting that Bill and Hilary held somewhere in the Midwest. Question from the participants indicated that they were concerned about the state of the economy and its impact on the standard of living in rural America. After some references to various real estate investments and stock transactions from which the Clintons had benefited, a participant in the meeting asked, “But are you really one of us [as you claim in your campaign messages]?!”
While I don’t remember the Clintons’ response, I remember the question as the defining moment of this town hall meeting. Instead of arguing whether GDP growth could be expected to be 2.1% or 2.2%, the person who asked the question went straight to the fundamental question of who the Clintons were in their heart of hearts. The piercing power of the question reminded me of Richard Nixon’s vicious quip about his opponent, Helen Graham Douglas, during his bid for the Senate in the early 1950s: “Pink right down to her underwear.” Competent and accomplished though Congresswoman Douglas might have been, during the Cold War with Russia, most US citizens were reluctant to cast a vote in favor of a candidate who might harbor pro-Socialist or pro-Communist leanings. During the weeks following Nixon’s accusation, California voters did not come to terms with the real Congresswoman Douglas. The rest, as they say, is history: Nixon won the campaign and became California’s Senator-elect.
I mention these two political anecdotes because of my strongly-held conviction that Agile leadership must be absolutely genuine. As an Agile leader, you must be of the same DNA (so to speak) as the developers, testers, writers, and product managers in your Agile/Scrum team, and identify with them completely in terms of both the talk and the walk. While they might not explicitly ask, “Are you really one of us?!” the question can linger like the proverbial elephant in the family room. For example, I sincerely doubt that you can achieve great success as an Agile leader if your passion is revenue recognition. You might be able to make various hard decisions in a dispassionate manner, but can you “touch” your Agile buffs (and those who are still sitting on the fence about adopting Agile) in a deep manner? Can you galvanize them around Agile as a very cool methodology?
You might be asking, “What on earth is in the DNA of software developers?” I believe the simple answer has been given in the Cluetrain Manifesto: the passion and pride of the craftsman in his/her work. If you consider your software to be an extension of yourself--worrying about each bug as if it were a potentially malignant wart on your nose--you probably possess the right DNA for Agile leadership. On the other hand, if you do software en passant, and do not take insane pride in the software that you produce, you are unlikely--IMHO--to make a great Agile leader. Because of your skills, experience, professionalism, and dedication, you might do a credible job, but I doubt that you will be able to electrify the Agile team to the level of hyper-productivity.
I do not pretend that I can measure your software passion and pride – these are for you to assess. Rather, my simple suggestion is as follows: before you start leading an Agile project, take a good introspective look in the mirror and come to terms with the real you – craftsman or no craftsman?! Agile can easily put you in a situation in which you will curse yourself for ever embarking on an Agile “adventure.” Do your self-test before you start, not during the course of a disastrous iteration when you start suspecting that Agile had been conceived by people who were “inhaling”
I am not sure how one administers a self-test for passion and pride. However, I will share a self test that I experienced after the time-to-market, productivity, and quality results for the BMC Performance Manager releases were published by QSM Associates. In preparing for an all-employees meeting of my business unit I wondered whether I should conclude the meeting with the following words:
Between the quarterly results and the QSM Associates study reside the 386 employees of this business unit. To each of you, I say, “this great quarter is yours alone!”
After wrestling with this question for quite some time, I ultimately used these words in the meeting (and never regretted it) for a very simple reason: they precisely expressed what I felt in my heart. I had no doubt that I really was one of us and would be viewed in this light by the business unit employees.
Other values, skills, and virtues are vital to great Agile leadership – see for example Jim Highsmith’s excellent presentation on the subject in the Agile 2006 conference. However, I would contend that the “One of Us” requirement in the sense defined above is absolutely necessary. Please remember – you can’t fake authenticity.