"It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change!" - Charles Darwin

Thursday, 11 December 2014

The top 2 skills for being an effective Agile coach (or an effective leader)

Being an Agile coach is fun and extremely rewarding, but it is a tough job. 
Like a sports coach, you're supposed to help your team and your players perform at the best they can, without playing yourself. You have to influence with no formal authority, so you'd better have a very well equipped toolbox (skills, knowledge, techniques, and experience) if you desire to be effective.
I'm not here today to create a generic list of what those tools might look like. I just want to share the two coaching skills which helped me most in my 5-years experience as an Agile coach: 
  1. Empathy 
  2. Situational awareness
rosita by schaaflicht/CC BY 2.0

1. Empathy 

Empathy is a very important skill for coaches as well as for leaders, even though I think not many people realize this. 
No coach can be effective without getting trust from clients; likewise no leader can be effective without trust from people she is supposed to achieve success with. 
I learned that one of the most effective ways to build trust is to demonstrate that you truly care about people and you are committed to their growth. 
I learned that people want to feel they are valued. People appreciate when someone is really listening to them, puts herself in their shoes, is not judgmental and really tries to understand their viewpoint. 
Then of course you have to show that you can really help them and bring some value, but being “there for them”. when talking to peopl.e is a necessary step. Otherwise they perceive you just as a sort of knowledgeable professor. 
One of the most rewarding feedback I have ever received was from a Product Owner I was coaching: “It’s really impressive - he said once -  you look like you’re truly listening when we talk, not just hearing what I’m saying!”. 
Of course it is not always easy and it doesn’t come easy for me either. 
It is a skill to practice (and deliberately practice) to reach what David Rock calls listening for potential: it means listening to people not as for what they are now, but by thinking at what they can become in the future and be committed to help them become the best they can be.

Mount Everest by NASA/CC BY 2.0

2.  Situational awareness

With situational awareness I mean the ability to be really present, observe carefully and understand what is going on around you: basically the ability of “reading the room” or “smelling the room” beyond words. 

This skill always resulted to be very useful for me in many situations, especially when I meet a team for the first time or when I deliver training. 

You can understand for instance, who is with whom or against whom; who is more senior, or who the leader is; who embraces new ideas or who is skeptical. Of course I do not use it as my only source of information, but I learned to trust this sense, which I consider a mix of “gut feeling” and experience in observing human behaviors. 

I apply this skill continuously: for instance I use it to diagnose how a team is collaborating. I observe them during the day, at Daily Scrum and in other ceremonies and I try to understand what is “really” going on to understand what to do or not to do.

What are the skills which are most effective and helpful for you?