The Price Of Leadership

There are many leaders and managers out there that think that the purpose of leadership is to direct people on what they should do. These sorts of leaders think that their job it to tell, and then have their minions follow. To some extent they not only tell their minions what to do, but also how to do it. Now, there is a time and a place for this sort of leadership, but there is a price. The price isn’t necessarily paid by the leader, but by those that are under them.
This is especially true where those “minions” work under positions that require high demand. There have been many studies that show the link between low control and high demand jobs and how unhealthy they are, but a study released in November 2016  linked the demand of the job to the amount of control of the job to the mortality rate.

What it found was that those in high demand, but low control jobs. The type of job where the leader is directing you, there is a 15.4% increase in the mortality rate than those in low control, low demand. The surprising thing found was that those under high demand, but high control, where you have a say in how you work, there is an 34% decrease in the mortality rate. High control leaders are literally killing their people. Not to mention increasing the chances burnout, stress or other unhealthy psychological issues.

I hear you say that the demands on a leader are high too, yes they are, but, so is the control. The price of bad leadership is paid for by not by the leader, but by those under them.
This is not always the case, some people have a high tolerance for no control, others may not. If you combine this with an environment where you cannot discuss issues, openly, where the culture is to hide rather than make open then the higher price is more likely to be paid. Especially if those that are under strain hide it well, then no one at work will know, not until things really boil over, then it may be too late.

I have no doubt that leaders of this type have good intentions. It may be to make sure the work is being done. Make sure that the work is being done right, but the question I ask is “Is it worth the price?”

So how do you give control to those under you while still getting the work done? One answer may be to set the outcome required, the constraints, make them clear, but leave enough wiggle room for those doing the work to do it how they want. Not how you want. Let them make the decisions on how they do the work.Those under you may fail, they may do the wrong thing, but make an environment where the damage is limited.
Let people figure out problems themselves, if they ask for help, don’t take over, give them enough to lead them in the right direction where possible.
This helps those under you learn. They learn to make the right decisions. They learn to do the job better. They work because it benefits them in the form of mastery, they become more engaged This benefits the leader too. No more managing everything, you have more free time. Stuff gets done quicker as people do not have to wait for your input and decisions.

This may be one method, but I suggest thinking through your own way to give your people more control. Dare I say it, include your people in the discussion. Let them help you figure this out.

This is a big step. You yourself are going to fail, your people will stumble, and there will be temptation to go back to controlling everything, it is so much easier to do. It may take months or even years to turn, but the benefits can be worth it. What you had previously was leadership through fear. Those under you feared losing their jobs, peer pressure kept them from speaking out (although it may not have stopped them from talking about you behind your back). What you are building now is leadership built on trust and trust can be hard to gain in this circumstance.

For further reading, I highly recommend:
Turn The Ship Around by L David Marquet
Team of Teams by G Stanley McChrystal
Multipliers by Liz Wiseman
Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek


The Ignored Parts Of Agile

Some people think that Agile is a process that you follow. You do the stand ups, have the board, ceremonies etc.  Even if you do these things, even if you follow Scrum, Kanban, Lean Software, Crystal, DevOps or whatever, you are only looking at part of it. Even if you follow these procedures to the letter, you are still only looking at part of it.

One of the other parts that gets missed, but is implied in these new ways of working is the psychology. It is the human factor. It is looking at what motivates us to work. What makes us want to do our best, what gives us drive. Then there is the other side, what demotivates us. What makes us unhappy, in a state of despair. What makes us grumble about our work and how we can get away from that and get back to being happy.

I’m not talking about being happy little vegemites (here is the meaning, I’m also one of the few Aussies that doesn’t like Vegemite) mindlessly happily working like we have drunk the Kool Aid, although that is part of it. It is also not working hard because of a strong work ethic, although that is part of it too. A person with a strong work ethic will keep working even if they are not happy with the work. No, this is something that transcends that. It is working for a purpose.

Purpose and Control

For those Gamers out there, you know the situation. You are playing a game, you spend the whole day (or night) playing. Totally consumed, totally unaware of the time. You look up, its day, you look up again it’s night, you look up again and its day again – where did the time go? You are playing with purpose. You want to master the game. If you didn’t want to master the game and the only purpose was to complete it, set the game to “Easy”. You can complete it in no time. Also, you control when, how and what you do in the game – you are constrained by the rules of the game. But you are still in control.

Yes, it’s only a game, but imagine that drive, that motivation being redirected to work. Not through manipulation, but through a shared goal, vision or belief in what you are doing. This is why in the Scrum Guide there is talk about the Sprint Goal, the Product Vision. In Scrum, it is the Product Owner’s job to firstly have that vision and then inspire the development team to have that shared vision. That same goal, the want to be part of something that will make a difference. When a person has an understanding of the overall goal, and where they fit in the goal, how they can help bring about that goal, that change, that vision, then mountains can be moved.
There are many leaders in history that have been able to lead this way for both good, for example Martin Luther King, and Evil, Adolf Hitler to name but two prominent people.

Fight or Flight

The next human factor is one where we want to do better. It is much much easier to just keep things they way they are. Everything is predictable. The way you did something yesterday will be the same way you will do it today. It is generally how modern day management works. Keep things at steady state, limit the variation and all will go smoothly. There is some variation, you change things slightly if the new way is proven. If it sounds like a good idea, and feasible, but doesn’t really change things all that much. This method of working is fine. It gets things done, makes it predictable – generally. Evolution is slow, but still happens.
The problem is that there are some people out there, in the industry that you work in, that are trying to accelerate the work evolution. Not only that, they are doing the equivalent of gene splicing by constantly trying new ways of working. Experimenting constantly. Trying to determine what works, what doesn’t, what is better and then adopting those as their new steady state for the short time before it gets changed yet again. This is one of the ideas behind the “iteration”, but we are talking human factor here, not process or procedure. So how do you get that drive to constantly try new things, get better? One way is through crisis. One way to deal with a crisis is to accept things are going to happen and just live with it or run away. What will be will be. This is not the attitude we want. It is the equivalent of laying down to die.
The other way to get through a crisis is to fight it. Those that fight will try to find a way out of the crisis. When the odds are against them, these type of people try to find unconventional and innovative means to fight back.
In Scrum, this is the Scrum Masters role. To inspire the team to fight back constantly against an enemy that may be a competitor, another team or even themselves. The team must fight back using unconventional and innovative means to get the work done better and quicker. Never to be content with the current situation, or be taken over by the enemy.


The final human factor I wish to talk about is using people’s strengths. Too often people are brought in to fit roles. Most of the time, these same people can offer much more, just not in the role that they have been placed in. To make things worse, these people are overloaded with work. This invokes a situation that Liz Wiseman in her book Multipliers calls “Over Worked, yet Underutilized”.
This is very demoralizing for a person. I remember a story from 2 second lean, where Paul Akers talks about an engineer who gets an award for 30 years of service. (The details may be sketchy as its from memory). The Engineer sits down and cries. When asked why? He says, “They had the work of my hands for 30 years. They could have had the work of my mind for free”. People have ideas on how to make their work lives easier. Not all of them revolve around them shirking work.
I bought this book Strengths Finder 2.0 a while ago. It comes with a test you can do online. You answer a number of questions honestly otherwise it doesn’t work and you have wasted your money, and based on your responses, it works out what your top 5 strengths are.
Mine are to summarize...
Learner – I like to learn stuff.
Deliberative – I take care of making decisions.
Ideation – I am fascinated by and constantly have ideas
Connectedness – I can find the links between things.
Intellection – I am introspective and appreciate intellectual discussions.
These pretty much sum me up quite nicely. Freakily so.
Another type of test is the Briggs-Myers test. I personally haven’t done this one, but it gives similar responses.
Having team members do these types of tests can help identify their strengths and thus be able put them to use. Since you are utilizing the specific strength of a person, people feel better utilized.


A significant number of people who work are not happy with their jobs. If you do a google search on “How many people are disengaged with their jobs” you start to see numbers around the 70% mark. This means you have 70% of your workforce not giving their all. This ultimately affects the bottom line. You can’t order these people to give their all, they need to give it willingly. You could try to compensate with the “Carrot and Stick” approach by giving bonuses, but this only works for a few and only short term. It also disengages people more if the bonus is removed. The only way to get full engagement is by creating an environment where people are inspired to give their all (while taking into account their circumstances such as family, work life balance etc – we are not slave drivers) can only help. Look at the open source community, Wikipedia, etc. people are so inspired that they work for free!
Ignoring the psychology of the people, means people are not as motivated to do their best. Some may have even worked in this situation so long that they may not even know what their best is. The problem arises that more resources will be required. This means more expenditure. It also means that those companies that do do take into account their people get the upper hand over you as they do more with the same amount of people. This. Hold mean that your company’s actual survival may be at stake, which is not good.

The Fish-Bone Diagram

One of the many things that is common between Lean and Agile is that they make problems visible. Most of the time when we as humans see a problem, we look for the most obvious solution and implement that solution. Sometimes, especially with complex problems, the most obvious solution is not the best solution. Sometimes you have to dig deeper to get to the actual root cause.
There are a number of techniques to analyze problems and try to get more information or a better exploration of the issue. The most common is the 5 whys method where you ask “Why” 5 times. Another method which I would like to discuss is the Fishbone diagram, also known as the Cause and Effect diagram.

The fish-bone diagram is a graphical method to view possible causes of the problem. It does not help you solve the problem, only identify potential root causes. You can then experiment to determine the actual root cause and possible solutions.
The diagram gets its name from its shape. It, well, looks like the bones of a fish.
To draw the diagram is quite simple. At the head of the fish is the problem, also known as the undesirable effect. It is better if you phrase the problem as a question rather than a statement. “Why did <problem> happen?” rather than just “Problem”. Sometimes phrasing things as a question gets a better thought process than just a statement. Once you have the head, then you have the spine and from the spine, the ribs which represent the groups of causes. The causes then branch off the ribs.

As you can see, the diagram is quite simple and quickly shows how potential causes relate to one another.

There are two popular brainstorming methods to getting the fishbone diagram.
The first is to brainstorm possible causes and write them down on “Post-It” notes on a wall. Group the post-its together by relationship to one another. Those relationships become the ribs of the diagram.
The second method is to pre label the ribs. An example may be to use “People”, “Process” and “Technology” (You don’t have to have an even number of ribs). This method helps focus on possible causes, but can limit thinking to only within these groups.

Below is a completely fabricated example where the problem/undesirable effect was that a calculation of 2 numbers led to the wrong value.

As you can see, there is no “solution” to the issue. We are just looking at possible reasons as to why the defect occurred.
The next step in the process is to discuss, and analyze the possible causes and then find ways to mitigate them from happening.

The Fish-Bone diagram is a simple but effective method to help view problems in a new light. This can lead to better root cause analysis and innovative solutions.