Agile & Lean

Agile leadership anti-patterns: How many of these do you recognise?

Michael Easson considers the role that leadership plays in the success of an agile team, and points to five common agile leadership shortcomings (and where to get help).

Has your agile team been doing everything expected of them but seem to get caught out by external factors? Without you realising it, the management practices you've always had in place may just hold the key to what has been holding your organisation back from success – and it's easier to fall into their trap than you might think. 

Agile leadership anti-patterns arise when managers repeatedly use inefficient solutions to common problems – and though these anti-patterns would have been established with the best intentions, failing to tackle them can negatively impact team performance and, ultimately, profits. 

The problems can be even more profound within software development: while working with cross-functional collaborative teams, having a routine of counter-productive patterns will have disastrous effects rippling across multiple business areas – and you achieve the anthesis of agility.

It's something evidenced across events I facilitate with QA Ltd. In fact, it was becoming such a, well, pattern that we created the dedicated program to support managers and leaders.

Particularly with agile teams, we increasingly find that these leadership anti-patterns arise because they are followed to improve processes. However, they actually have the opposite effect, hampering efforts and slowing progress towards achieving goals. 

Here are some of the most common agile leadership anti-patterns that come up in our sessions and how to spot them. Now, all you need to do is see how many you recognise – being aware of them is the first step to changing these practices for the better. 

1. No consistency 

Being consistent is a sign of a strong leader. Among other benefits, when issues arise, the decision of a leader who has a reputation will often be seen as fair, one which can be trusted to move the team toward their bigger goals. 

However, I often see agile leaders who lack this skill. That can come in the form of quickly giving up on a strategy and changing tact too early, being unpredictable in their opinions and actions, and applying different expectations to different employees. 

2. Lack of influence 

The most outstanding leaders are the ones who inspire their teams: it's one of the many reasons why leaders like Elon Musk and Richard Branson are so iconic. A leader needs to influence their team and the business to achieve results - and this can be earned through a combination of reputation, charisma, talent and trust. On the opposite end of the spectrum sits leaders without influence: you'll recognise these through not being seen as helpful by others, them not being trusted, and being unable to solve disputes.

3. No vision 

One of the least inspiring things an agile leader can do? Not have a vivid vision for their team and the business. Without an impressive goal that you can all work together to achieve, how likely will they see great success? This anti-pattern can lead to ​​an inability to follow a clear strategy, a lack of passion or ability to inspire others, and micromanaging, as a lack of sight towards clear goals will often cause a leader to get bogged down in unnecessary detail. 

4. No accountability 

Taking accountability is a huge factor in earning respect, being trusted and being a competent agile leader. By that token, it's also straightforward to spot when someone lacks that skill: look out for lacking transparency and managers who resist scrutiny, either by lying about responsibilities, hiding relevant facts or being defensive when it comes to constructive criticism. 

5. Missing management skills 

The truth is, all skills will go dull unless we work on them. The best leaders are competent and trusted by others to get the job done – but many people lack these management skills, often due to being promoted and rising through the ranks at an organisation, but without the management experience or support in learning to coincide with new accountabilities. 

Agile leadership training

Being a skilled leader isn't something anyone is born with, and it's definitely not something that comes with a job title. It's learned and earned over time and with practice and failure. It is developed by having fundamental values and goals in place. There is always more to learn. We at QA Ltd are passionate about learning and have over 60 agile training courses for all types of roles, knowledge levels and certifications. But learning doesn't just have to be in the form of training courses. One of the most remarkable ways to learn is through personal coaching, which focuses on your needs and specific situation.

Which of these anti-patterns have you spotted in your agile teams? Have you noticed these symptoms arise from following old patterns, unconscious bias, fear of change, or simply because "that's how it's always been done"? 

Comment below, and let's break these patterns together!

We have regular meet-ups and would love to see you there. Keep an eye on our socials where we’ll announce the next one!


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