Your agile transformation needs no heroes

Dear deci­sion-mak­ers, who wish to make your orga­ni­za­tions more agile, do not long for heroes and sav­iors for your agile trans­for­ma­tion. And please stop copy­ing blue­prints and using frame­works to intro­duce agili­ty via a recipe. An agile trans­for­ma­tion is not a project, but a long jour­ney with­out a clear objec­tive on which an orga­ni­za­tion that has become too rigid in the past becomes an increas­ing­ly adapt­able one. Uncer­tain­ty is part of change, but heroes and recipes are not. On the con­trary, heroes and doers make peo­ple depen­dent by pro­vid­ing hero­ic solu­tions rather than empow­er­ing teams to find those solu­tions themselves.

A good trav­el­er has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.
Lao Tzu

Cul­ture can be defined as the sum of behav­iour­al pat­terns in organ­i­sa­tions. It clear­ly man­i­fests itself in form of pro­mo­tions and rewards. Often these go to the heroes and doers who have every­thing under con­trol and oil on their fin­gers. But where heroes are demand­ed and pro­mot­ed, there will auto­mat­i­cal­ly be sit­u­a­tions that require heroes, so that the cul­ture con­firms itself. This explains the call for heroes, espe­cial­ly in dif­fi­cult and uncer­tain times with great chal­lenges, and prefer­ably such heroes with a proven and very sim­ple recipe.

For every com­plex prob­lem there is an answer that is clear, sim­ple, and wrong.
H. L. Mencken

After many years and aber­ra­tions, my lead­er­ship phi­los­o­phy can best be summed up in the guide­line of Götz W. Wern­er: “Today, lead­er­ship is only legit­i­mate if it has the self-lead­er­ship of the employ­ees entrust­ed to it as its goal”. This new lead­er­ship must meet with resis­tance and con­fu­sion in hero cul­tures and is inter­pret­ed some­where between lazi­ness, inabil­i­ty and neglect of the duty of care.

Now this could be con­sid­ered my per­son­al prob­lem. But one can also see this as a cul­tur­al chal­lenge and ask one­self what kind of lead­er­ship is con­ducive to agile trans­for­ma­tion: the loud doers with the oil on their fin­gers or the cre­ators, the ini­tia­tors, the lat­er­al and new thinkers, the net­work­ers and coach­es, for whom the cause, the results and above all the peo­ple are more impor­tant than their own ego. Based on the prin­ci­ple of self-orga­ni­za­tion, I come to the same con­clu­sion as Götz W. Werner.

Where cul­ture equates lead­er­ship with hero­ism and hero­ic doers, auton­o­my and agili­ty will not thrive with­out chang­ing this culture.

Agile trans­for­ma­tion clear­ly needs lead­er­ship, but it also needs lead­er­ship that must aim to empow­er employ­ees. Cer­tain­ly, an agile trans­for­ma­tion must be orga­nized and shaped. And of course, it also needs impuls­es and dis­rup­tions to keep the change mov­ing; always with the goal of mak­ing the orga­ni­za­tion and espe­cial­ly the peo­ple in it suc­cess­ful. And they are suc­cess­ful when there is no longer any neces­si­ty for a hero and doer and, accord­ing to Lao-Tse, every­one says: “We’ve done it ourselves!”

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