11 Promises Effective Leaders Should Make and Keep

By: Bob Schommer | November 30, 2017

The original title of this article was going to be, “An Agile Leader’s Promise”, since all the commitments that follow are important to the success of agile teams. However, it soon became apparent to me that these pledges are important for every leader, whether they work for organizations that practice agile, waterfall or something in between.

These leadership practices are often referred to as 21st Century Management: leading knowledge workers, servant leadership, agile leadership, radical management, etc. Regardless of what we call them, these practices are critical for any organization that wants motivated and engaged team members.

As you read the promises that follow, do not think these are only for formal leaders. After all, we are all leaders in some aspect of our lives whether at work or at home. 

As a leader, I promise that I will:

  1. Treat estimates as forecasts for what you know about the work in front of you now. I understand that you will uncover new information as you begin work and your forecast will change – sometimes higher and sometimes lower. Your performance will not be judged by how closely your actual time worked matches your estimates.
  2. Limit your work in progress so you can get something done. I know it is inefficient for you to constantly switch between multiple work assignments. Being able to multi-task is not a badge to earn but a curse that reduces throughput.
  3. Encourage normal work hours. I understand that working longer hours and weekends over extended periods of time do not increase output. It only decreases quality and increases your frustration. I trust that you will work hard to delight our customers and will work extra time for short bursts when necessary to meet team and customer commitments. Over the long-term I expect you to maintain a healthy balance between your work and home life.
  4. Enable learning and growth. This not only allows you to continue improving your skills, but it also helps our customers and our company. As you learn new skills, you will be able to solve ever more challenging problems and develop innovative products that delight our customers.
  5. Empower you to make decisions that impact your work. I will provide you with direction of what we need to accomplish and will enable you to determine the best approach to achieve it. I am available if you have questions or would like guidance in deciding. However, the decision is yours.
  6. Celebrate failure because, done right, these “failures” are actually successes. You have learned what does not work and can now zero-in on a solution that will work. I will be your biggest cheerleader when your experiments succeed and be there to support you when they don’t go exactly as expected.
  7. Absorb blame and share accolades. I will shield you from blame that will inevitably come as you experiment in your quest to continuously improve. I will enthusiastically deflect accolades that come my way to the team because you are the ones who did the work and deserve the credit.
  8. Work for the team. I understand that the measure of my success is the success of team members who are actually doing the work. My motivation comes from seeing you succeed and grow. I will do everything in my power to remove obstacles that stand in the way of your success.
  9. Encourage customer delight. I know our customers are constantly looking for us to solve ever more complicated problems with innovative and creative solutions. I will encourage you to find ways to rapidly deliver valuable and high quality solutions to our customers. If things happen to go wrong and a customer is unhappy, I will encourage you to do the right thing. I will support you as you work to “make things right” for the customer.
  10. Listen. I know you are closest to the work and our customers. I believe you have ideas how to delight our customers and how to most effectively do your work. I will listen to feedback about how I can better support you and the team. I will listen to you — REALLY LISTEN. 
  11. Trust. I will extend my trust to you and will do everything in my power to be worthy of your trust. I understand that trust is difficult to earn and easily lost. Working together is so much more enjoyable when we know we have each other’s back.

Stephen Denning’s book, “The Leaders Guide to Radical Management: Reinventing the Workplace for the 21st Century” promotes many of these leadership traits as “radical management”. It is an excellent book that I highly recommend. However, I find it somewhat unsettling that Mr. Denning decided to call it “radical management”. What is so radical about having self-organizing teams who are focused on delighting our customers? It is my sincere desire that soon this will just be the way we lead and not be considered “radical”.

Bob Schommer is a Senior Consultant with over 10 years of agile experience who has trained over 300 professionals on agile and DevOps practices. He has coached and advised large and small organizations to optimize their software delivery chain.

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