Copyright 2021 John Alex i Piotr Jankowski
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John Alex: Hi Piotr, what are you coming with today?
Piotr: I come with a leadership topic…
John Alex: Ooh, leadership! Yes… Such a popular word these days.
Piotr: Well, I don’t know really, I just wanted to investigate why is leadership ever needed in a company where you have democratic or even self-sustaining teams, based on AGILE/SCRUM, where top-down leadership isn’t even wanted, not to say - needed at all?!
John Alex: I see… Interesting thesis, ok… So what do you need from me today?
Piotr: I would like you to come to me with a set of challenging questions so I can understand what is actually the truth, objectively and what is the right thing and what is the truth for me?
John Alex: Ok, how do you want me to be for you?
Piotr: Just challenge me to maximum John Alex, alright? I really want to feel it, deep!
John Alex: Ok, no problem and my pleasure, Mister!
Piotr: Ok, so is leadership ever needed when you have a self-sustaining team?
John Alex: What do you mean when you say “self-sustaining team”?
Piotr: Well, I mean a perfect team that like each other, support and help each other, solve each other issues when they arise and everyone is so motivated that they can do the job fast and with high quality without anyone standing over their shoulders and telling them what and how to do!
Moreover, this Team would know how finances are, what they can spend and what will be revenues, who they need in the team, who to recruit, what skills they need to develop and so on.
John Alex: Indeed sounds like a great company and a great Team, Piotr.
Piotr: Yeah, I am also excited with that vision, although I do not know many such teams exist, I want to believe they exist! Or are possible to get created!
John Alex: Great comment, Piotr. So who is responsible for making this happen?
Piotr: What do you mean "happen", what excatly?
John Alex: Who is responsible and accountable for ensuring such teams exist and they are created?
Piotr: Naaah, John Alex, this is too simplistic, you want me to answer that it is a leader…
John Alex: No, no, please, Piotr, don’t get frustrated, I am not imposing anything… I am just asking a question for you to answer. So who is creating such a brilliant team?
Piotr: The Owner of the company for example…
John Alex: Ok, if the owner of the company is creating a brilliant team, what role is the owner of the company holding in the very act of creation?
Piotr: Well, it is a leader of that team… Ok… But then, that very leader can “disappear”, because this team would get to know each other, relate to each other, share free time, share values, share emotions, share private lives and would rescue each other from any problem and present enormous drive… they would adapt a ready to use methodology, like SCRUM which has well defined roles and processes and if perfectly done, there is no leader needed! And the team contacts the Customer, so where is the leadership needed then?
John Alex: You are accelerating the time Piotr, but we will get there as well. Let me stop you here for e moment, because I can feel you are talking in such a speedy manner like you wanted to prove to me your words are true, rather than really look into yourself like you originally defined, ok? Tell me please, what is going on?
Piotr: Ok, I get your point, you are right… I just feel I wanted to know a true world without any boss exist and believe in it.
John Alex: A World without a boss is your aspiration then?
Piotr: … I guess, this is because I have a bad experience with a boss, which turns me to think how to organize a world without a boss in the future.
John Alex: I will try a metaphor then, if you love bikes and biking and your bike breaks during an important tournament, do you buy a new bike to continue your passion or you fed up with biking and immediately want to change it, to live without any bike anymore?
Piotr: Nice try, John Alex.
John Alex: Thanks, ok, but let’s get back to you and leaders. Leaders are employees too. Humans, too. They are not evil by default, right? There are better leaders skills and there are worse, they might have a bad day or have a brilliant day.
Piotr: Ok I get this, but in SCRUM, where everything is perfectly organized, we do not need a leader anymore, right?
John Alex: Ok, can this team solve ANY problem in a company?
Piotr: Basically, any problem that touches that team, yes.
John Alex: Okaaay… let me ask from another angle. Can you imagine the worst thing that this team is vulnerable to or exposed against… or a problem they are rather unable to solve? Like, "the worst of the worst"?
Piotr: Hmmm… [longer silence] Well, I guess… Police comes to arrest someone against an alleged act of a team member have done something to a Customer…
John Alex: Okay, very nice example. What else?
Piotr: Hmmm… Another would be if too many get sick and we lack hands to work and Customer is getting mad about deadlines… right now.
John Alex: Okaaay, what else?
Piotr: I don’t know, maybe if there is financial issue and we need to get all the teams together, we do not have that expertise or experience in solving such higher-end problems because we are developers…?
John Alex: Great job, very nice examples Piotr! So what does this tell you?
Piotr: Ok, so I have just confirmed to myself that - as an employee - I might not need a leader “here”, but I might need a leader “there”, that someone needs to take care of some things that are beyond my visibility, expertise and scope and secondly that the owner might need the leaders to do the same
John Alex: Nice one, so how would you define leadership?
Piotr: Well, I got a problem now, as all the above looks to me as “management”, I would expect something more than that…
John Alex: Ok, so look at your examples once again please and name 3 most important things that leader does to the team or individuals to turn things around from a problem to a positive, which is not a regular management duty.
Piotr: Ok, example by example, this would be: in the arrest example, a leader would try to get behind the employee back, to protect the employee and maybe take care about this case, inform family and so on. In the second example a true leader would jump in to help with his own hands or maybe totally prioritized recruitment or, somehow, get people immediately in to help the team not to collapse. And in the third example, financial issues, a leader would get all the teams together, maybe team representatives, like Product Owners and organized a facilitated discussion: on cost savings or maybe what can we sell more, to improve the finances?
John Alex: Great job Piotr, so give me three short expressions here - what is leadership?
Piotr: Team & Individual Protection, Barrier Removals & Support, Inspire & Facilitate to achieve more together?
John Alex: Brilliant! How does this sound to you now?
Piotr: So is this leadership?
John Alex: I guess it is.
Piotr: Is it just that?
John Alex: How do you think?
Piotr: I think it is much more, but... is it like all depends on the example and we can multiply them but each of them would be ultimately the leaders accountability, even a thing I would not realize today?
So whatever the example would be, leadership would aim to support to get things better, or handled at all?
John Alex: What is a common theme in all those examples?
Piotr: Hmmm… I guess a unique care for the team and for an indivdual. Like a parent loves a child, even if the child becomes an adult and totally self-sustaining, living in a different city, this parent would stay in the background, invisible... And step in only when needed, not even asked to. And the son or daughter, even a fully adult, in her or his 40ties would know & feel safe, that the parent is “there”. As someone more experienced. As someone living longer. As someone who got your back. Simply is “there” for you… Regardless, if you have own family already, great job, earn money and have everything under control – the parent is there. Because if something would be wrong - you would not even plan for - or you are in trouble, you never normally are, you can get to your parent and just talk this through… or when you are in hospital, and need blood – your parent will be there first without you asking. This is called love... Is leadership love?
John Alex: You define it Piotr, but what a great metaphor with all this…
Piotr: As much as I love someone, I do not have to be there all the time and touch, check all his or her life aspects. Love is giving to someone what she or he really needs. Being there, in need – and those needs might be different case to case. It is about understanding these needs, or at least trying to understand, sharing values and goals and co-creating them together, wanting your kid to be successful, her or him to be the one recognized, not you… as a parent you are proud for your son & daughter… as a parent you do not show how great teacher you are, but how a great student your daughter or son is!
John Alex: Great job, Piotr. This sounds really nice. So how would you summarize your thoughts?
Piotr: I think, all depends on the company, but where I personally was coming from here in my assumptions was in my scope of visibility. I would not see a leader in action, this is what I meant “leader was not needed”. But in fact leaders are needed, because their job is to make me feel like I am self-sustaining as a human being and as a team member, that we are on our own, that we are successful or that we have power to solve problems. But they give me security and space for my development and opportunities to get recognized. And to commit errors adn mistakes!
But they would step in any moment I need them, so I feel secure. They would remove any barriers, any glass ceilings for me to feel I can move mountains and that I want to move them because I believe in it.
John Alex: Ok, so what does this mean for teams and companies?
Piotr: When I give this a second though, I come up with a notion of scale.
John Alex: What do you mean?
Piotr: I mean if team is less self-sustaining or in a forming stage, you probably need more leaders… like more involved leaders in the team’s life early stage, meaning less people per leader in a company.
But when you get closer to ideal, self-sustaining, “teal & turquoise” organizations, you simply need less leaders which shall bring also a financial benefit. So just because you have created a company where you have great culture, great teams and teamwork = meaning great leadership company, it means less leaders are required, which then means more profits!
John Alex: Absolutely spot on…
Piotr: This is why we need leadership to ensure there are less leaders. Better leadership = Less Leaders!
John Alex: Exactly right and this is the essence of coaching too. I can use a metaphor from our coaching field, Piotr. The less coaching sessions you need for someone to fulfil his or her needs, the better. The aim of the coach is to make the least sessions the Client needs and get the Client prepared for more on her or his own, without support of the coach anymore. Do the job and stay aside, move away. But if something happens, get back there and support again. This is the coach’s job. Same is for the leader!
Piotr: Nice example, indeed, thanks for this!
John Alex: Ok, so how would you summarize all this, Piotr, in a very brief?
Piotr: I want to make it in a way we see rights and obligations for the leader and rights and obligations for employees...
Hmmm… I think…. I will start from leaders, basing on all this what we have found: I think leaders have a right to have certain expectations, make vision and strategies, more from the distance, helicopter view and give big goals to all of us as a company, to ensure teams and individuals understand and buy-in to that. And they have a right to inspire teams and individuals to exceptional performance.
John Alex: Great stuff, wow – how deep and exact! So what about leaders obligations?
Piotr: Ha! I would like to believe that leaders are obliged to stay at a side as partners to me and to my teams, support me, protect me and my team from any negativity, politics etc that is beyond my scope anyway, so I can fulfil the duty of exceptional performance, to provide me space of trust and safety where I can feel I am self-sustaining and I am achieving and I am developing myself and that I am making this company great! Not because they force me to and I hate my job, but because they don’t – and I love my job. And in this sense, the obligation of a leader is to ensure that they goals are mine and that my goals are theirs…
John Alex: Beautifully said! So what about employees now?
Piotr: Employees have a right to love the company, love their work, to feel happy about the environment regardless if working from home or in the office, have a right to be understood, respected, valued and treated with just and transparently communicated to.
They have a right to receive all what a son or a daughter would receive from a loving parent: love, understood as genuinely caring leadership, with all eyes directed to me as an employee, as the most important element of a company to all the leaders. I have a right to feel that and experience that every day, so I, as an employee, can always say: I love that company and I love that job. And the fact, if I ever say that is of biggest importance to leaders. Because I make the code, not the leaders. So the leaders care is on me who create the code, not the code itself.
John Alex: Nice! What about employees obligations?
Piotr: This is difficult… But I think, as employees we are all obliged to care for the company and for each other. Care for whole equipment as ours. Care for companies' finances as our home budget. To contribute to a society of trust and mutual support. The Employees’ obligation is also to hear visions, turn them into ideas for the benefit of the company, to ensure my peers and my leaders can count on me and can count on my feedback. I have my right to receive honest and transparent feedback, so is my obligation to give that feedback, from simplest to complicated matters, to my peers and my leader.
John Alex: Great stuff… But why did you say this was difficult?
Piotr: Well, when we look at the job market, where in certain country or in certain industry there is either an “employee-market” or there might be an “employers-market”. What does this mean? This is based on economic laws of demand and supply, but there will always be imbalances in the world. Insufficient employees to fulfil employers needs or excess of employees on a market so employers have a great choice of candidates.
John Alex: Ok I get that, so where are you heading with this?
Piotr: As there is always an imbalance, I would like to call a leadership that it is obliged not to take advantage of this. I understand true leadership as a genuine value of employer versus an employee. As a leader, you are both employee and employer towards your staff, right? Both roles, at the same time. So, it is you who creates what the company is. You, as employer and as a leader are obliged not to take advantage of an excess of employees on a market. Just because there is excess of employees on job market, if you are truly a leader you would not underestimate the monetary value of a person to your company (remuneration) or you would not be more likely in mis-conduct or mis-behave towards employees, because “you can afford it”, you can “replace the employee” with somebody else. That is so sad, when it happens and has nothing to do with leadership, but just "filthy management". Let’s not lose leadership because we can afford it, ok?
There is equally an employee obligation, to ensure you as employee will not take advantage of an excess of companies wanting your services in a “war for talent”, let’s choose a greater value than just increase of you salary, there is much more in that than money...
John Alex: Let’s hope great leaders make great employees, and great followers create great leaders, Piotr. It indeed is a symbiosis. Thank you so much for this conversation!
Piotr: Equally thanks John Alex, I feel I have discovered a lot of deep stuff to think of!