Empowering teams to take initiative with Jose Corella
Join Murray Robinson and Shane Gibson as they dive into a discussion with Jose Corella on how leadership principles from the US Air Force can find applications in civilian organisations.
Key highlights from this engaging episode include:
Mission Command: Understanding how this military strategy fosters decentralised decision-making, empowering team members to take the initiative in achieving goals.
Red Team Thinking: A strategy to challenge plans and perspectives within an organisation to uncover weaknesses and create more robust solutions.
Servant Leadership: Focusing on supporting and empowering team members, rather than commanding from the top down.
Leadership Training: Recognizing the power and necessity of training in leadership roles to create effective, empathetic, and decisive leaders.
Civilian Applications: Bridging the gap between military strategies and their implementation in non-military settings, demonstrating their universal applicability.
This episode offers valuable insights for anyone interested in enhancing leadership skills through the adoption of tested and proven strategies from the US Air Force.
Read along you will
Shane: Welcome to the No Nonsense Agile Podcast. I’m Shane Gibson.
Murray: And I’m Murray Robinson.
Jose: I’m Jose Carella.
Murray: Hi, Jose. Thanks for coming on today.
Jose: Thanks for having me on the show.
Murray: So we want to talk to you about Agile leadership, why don’t you tell us a bit about your background and experience to start with.
Jose: My journey started in the Air Force. That’s where I learned the power of mission command, red teaming and enabling teams to take initiative with a commander’s overall intent. I then transitioned to the commercial world for the past 15, 16 years. I’ve applied these approaches and agile leadership principles, leading initiatives at major consumer packaged goods companies like Kimberly Clark and Procter and Gamble. All in service to accelerating innovation and time to market.
Murray: And have those been product management roles.
Jose: Yeah, so product management, brand management, general management as well. ‘Cause you’re touching a little bit of everything. You’re working cross-functionally to get products, brands out to market.
Murray: So what did you learn about leadership in the Air Force?
Jose: In the Air Force, I learned about the importance of empowering teams and giving clear strategic direction while allowing for flexibility and execution. Basically, the essence of Mission Command.
There is a common misperception that empowering teams and allowing flexibility and execution doesn’t really apply in the military, which has the perception of it being top down hierarchical. You must follow the chain of command. Thou shall do. There’s no thinking allowed. Nothing could be further from the truth. The military is a microcosm of what’s happening in the business world, And what I’ve seen in the commercial world is that volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity, that we were all trained on is also what’s happening in the commercial world.
And I would argue that the commercial world doesn’t have the leadership principles and the leadership training that we get in the military to handle the increased level of volatility, complexity, uncertainty, and et cetera.
Shane: I’m really intrigued by that because the forces they’ve been around for a long time, and that perception is there that they are based on hierarchies on follow the orders on don’t think. But we’ve had a few guests on that come from a similar background to you, and they’ve said that’s no longer true, that actually those organizations, those forces have reinvented themselves. Have completely changed their way of working. You could almost treat them as new organizations, who got rid of that hierarchical, fixed mindset baggage. Is that true? How did that change actually happen? Because it’s massive. if you’ve got this big monolithic organization and you’re trying to change it, that’s hard. So how did that happen in the forces?
Jose: I can only tell you about the experience that I had within the 10 years and whether I was enlisted or I was an officer, you could notice that, yeah despite the initial training setup, which is all around getting an organization to operate against the commander’s intent. during the initial training, even then they’re trying to build in the ability for you to think critically and adapt to certain situations that you may experience when you’re in a war fighting situation.
And so during peace time training becomes such a critical piece of everything that you do in the military. And then they try to simulate lateral thinking through red teaming and other exercises, or unique situations that you might face. And then you do it through repetition over and over again, so it becomes muscle memory. So that when you go into a war fighting situation, you’re not thinking, you are reacting and you are now able to free up your mind to be like, wait, hold on a second. This is a new situation.
And so it’s a little bit of both, they train and they train repetitive exercises that you might see in the field so that way when you’re in the field and you see something you were never trained for, you are free to adapt to those situations. You can’t teach that level of adaptability top down directive. I’m gonna tell you exactly what you’re gonna do in every single situation. That’s impossible.
Murray: Yeah. Because of course what happens is the moment that you get into a situation that’s in any way different from your training you’re not gonna be able to perform. ’cause you can’t think for yourself.
Jose: But that’s what’s missing in the commercial world is the training of the stuff we know that we’ve seen. And so then what you end up happening in the commercial world, and I think you’d ask the question, why do the large corporates just, miss it sometimes? Because there’s no training in corporates. You get taught on the job to do your job, and then maybe you get promoted several times. Next thing you’re a leader and they stop training you
Murray: Yeah, my first year in my first job, I got some training, and then after that nothing of any value.
Jose: Exactly. And so they expect you to just, once you arrived, you know everything, you’re the president of the organization or maybe you’re the c e o. How do you do that for an organization that’s maybe 50,000, a hundred thousand people, located all over the world, all in different functions. I don’t understand that. Because they never go to training. Maybe they get an executive coach, but they’re not forced to do training on business cases that you might have seen, Or contingency planning, risk management.
Murray: they might do an M B A or an executive M B A, but I can tell you having done that myself, that you don’t learn anything about people leadership in that.
Jose: Everybody was woefully , ill prepared for how to respond to covid from a supply chain safety contingency planning, but also from a people perspective. People had no idea what was going on. Do I go remote? Do I not go remote? Do I talk to my boss? How do I talk to my boss? How do I do this? How do I build a team that’s a hundred percent remote?
Murray: So how would you describe, the leadership you saw in the commercial world?
Jose: I was running a $450 million information security system that was protecting our security forces worldwide at 20 plus years old. If the security system didn’t work, you had lives at risk.
Then you transition to corporate finance where I was accountable for making sure that certain businesses were getting allocated a shared services cost on it, facilities and things like that. So the commercial world saying, I’m no longer responsible for all that. I’m now a cog in the wheel, and you’re basically just, pulling the lever and doing these things.
And so I had to really fundamentally ask myself, can the leadership principles that I was taught in the military, can they even be used in corporate environment?
Proctor and Gamble, in this case, they were very big on hiring junior military officers because of the discipline and the thinking and the leadership . But it’s still a pretty big mindset shift. So once you make That shift, then you start tapping into the things you’ve learned, which is about empowering teams, being more servant leadership minded, being very clear on your strategic imperatives prioritization, which is terrible in the corporate environment. The corporate world has come up with this concept of priorities. That’s not a word. It’s priority. You can have a prioritized list. There’s only one thing you can do at a time. That’s the one thing to teach in the military, right? Economies of force. What’s gonna make the biggest impact? It’s hard to teach that in the corporate world. So the scope of leadership is different but the quality of leadership is still needed and the principles of leadership are still applicable in the commercial world.
Murray: But did you feel more or less empowered in the corporate world than you did in the Air Force?
Jose: Oh, what a great question. When I first started, I was, I felt less empowered because the scope of the work is really small. You have an Excel sheet, you put some numbers in, you allocate these numbers in a system, and those numbers get allocated out to a business somewhere. And that’s it. You’re done. So you’re empowered to do the work but the scope of the work is so small that you don’t know, am I empowered to do this tiny little bit of work, or can I do more? Am I allowed to do more that I know is, gonna have a larger impact?
Over time in the commercial world, I learned that, hey, I can actually do a lot more. So long as you sell it in appropriately. There’s not as much selling that’s required when I was in the Air Force. You’re in power. You do catch ball, you can have conversations. You know what the mission is, because I didn’t have to sell anything different. In the commercial world, you have to sell an idea especially if it’s gonna cost more money.
Murray: There’s some really good people in corporate organizations, but there’s a lot of people who’ve never had any leadership training at all, and they come to it with, their own flaws, which are sometimes quite serious. So I’m wondering what were the pros and cons of leadership in the commercial world that you saw?
Jose: Yeah. So let’s start with the arc of a professional officer’s career versus maybe the arc from an individual contributor to a manager to a leader of a large organization. Maybe you’re now leading leaders, In the military, you have to go through training and there’s al, there’s milestones, but at every milestone as you get promoted through each rank, you are still required to go through training.
So when you are a junior military officer, you have to go to squadron officer school. When you become a field grade officer, you have to go to field grade officer school and when you become a colonel or in higher generals, you have to go to a war college.
And then there’s constant training being given to every level of leadership that you may aspire to and or accomplish. As part of you pinning on the rank or prior to you pinning on the rank, you have to go get your leadership principles, your leadership doctrine, and the toolkit that you’ve developed over time, refreshed with the higher level of training.
Okay. Now let’s compare that to you start in the corporate world. Maybe you start off and you don’t have any direct reports, so you are an individual contributor and you’re doing all this great stuff. You’re delivering projects on time and under budget, whatever. It’s as an individual contributor, you’re recognized for doing the tasks in an efficient manner and you get promoted to manager. Now you have direct reports. You probably never gonna go to leadership training, now that you have direct reports.
You might have to ask for it. Some companies, admittedly, they do have manager training, first time manager training, emerging leader trainings. And you’re like, okay, cool, so I’m a first time manager of direct reports. Maybe I got some training, maybe I didn’t. Let’s say it’s, call it 50 50, and then now you’re leading direct reports and then you continue to grow in scope of responsibility. Maybe it was one or two direct reports and then maybe it’s five or 10. Then all of a sudden you’re a senior leader, now executive, you’re talking senior director, vice president, and now you might be leading direct reports that have direct reports, so you’re leading leaders. It has been my experience and my observation that I have not seen these leaders of leaders, as you get higher up in the ranks, get any level of training on how to lead leaders and how to lead organizations and how to empower teams. What ends up happening is you have these senior leaders that are micromanaging instead of providing clear strategic guidance, they’re optimizing for the corporate politics and the minutia of maneuvering versus really focusing on what is the value they’re creating.
I’m not saying this is endemic , but that’s the disconnect and why I’m a big proponent of the capability building.
Murray: Yeah, and I reflect on my own career as a team leader and project manager and manager of managers. I never got any training at all. I had to learn by making mistakes and then realizing I needed to go and find some answers somewhere. But even my examples were generally pretty terrible. I came across a small number of really excellent people. People I would recognize now as being servant leaders. People who built capability, who valued their teams, who were clear about mission and goals. But there’s not many of those. I would say maybe 20% if I’m being generous. But a lot of the others were just bureaucrats or aggressive selfish politicians.
Jose: You said 20 to 30% of the leaders that you worked for, you could truly say are the embodiments of servant leadership. What were some of those traits or qualities, and how did they get to that? Did you ask them? ’cause I’m, I’m always genuinely curious. I ask people whom I think are outstanding leaders. Do you read books? Do you take training? Why are you the way you are? And. Where you get this toolkit from.
Murray: Yeah, They got it from their families. These were people who grew up in families that loved each other, supported each other, cared for each other, had really good communication, openly discussed problems, and resolved them. And they then, Brought that attitude to the workplace and treated their colleagues like adults and cared for them and supported them. Sometimes those people are not good at the task, but then they’re really good at getting the team to perform the task. Others are great at the task as well. There’s like a balance between being good at achieving the task and being good at with people. And I think the best leaders are good at both. But if you’re just good with people, you can go a long way. But yeah, it comes from family. I think given the no training and the models you get are often quite bad. That’s where it comes from.
Jose: I coach and mentor a lot of junior managers and new entrants into the corporate world and things like that. And so what if a person doesn’t have that background? They don’t have that familial strength in their background. So can leadership be taught?
Shane: I think it can be learned. I think it’s harder if you don’t have it naturally taught when you are younger. So I think there’s some other training grounds. I think there are, people who are younger have come through martial arts, they tend to learn to adapt to situations they’ve never seen before, because if they don’t, they get hit in the face.
I think there are groups like the scouts that have taught, , adaptive behavior and teaming behavior at early ages. A few of the servant leaders that I look at in my career that gave me the opportunities that I would never have without them. I don’t actually know their backgrounds. I’m gonna have to go find out now. ’cause now you’ve got me intrigued. But often I saw them work under a servant leader first and then adopt that same behavior. So they had a mentor that actually behaved in a similar way to them, that they behaved to me. And I was lucky enough to see both of them.
So I think that was , one way they learnt those skills or that behavior. But it’s an interesting question, is there a better training ground? Like you said within some of those organizations you worked with, they knew that taking junior officer outta the forces gave them people who had started that learning and that set of skills without them having to start from scratch. And it was a good proving ground.
Murray: I think you can definitely learn it, but it is harder. I did not have any good role models from my family. And, when I went through the workplace, I was very focused on the task, and I didn’t think at all about building capability of my team or even caring about them because my managers were just saying the task, the time, budget.
But, I learnt, the hard way. And then I went and read a whole lot of books. I read five dysfunctions of a team and did the manager tools training the podcast. Those are ex-military guys. And a bunch of other stuff . Jose, what about, your family? What did that teach you about leadership?
Jose: So I guess, yeah, I fall into the former camp or maybe somewhere in the middle. I like to say is that I had to have, an engineer for a dad and a black sheep, hippie for a mom, and they gave birth to a marketer. My parents, got divorced when I was really young, but there was always love in the house and both houses. But , what unified them was the ability to debate with respect. And my mother and I would get into heated arguments and the same thing with my dad, but it was always out of love and respect. And so I was allowed to have arguments and speak my mind, which was actually pretty cool.
And then two, the importance of learning and seeking outside resources. You don’t have the answers. It’s okay to assume it’s okay to hypothesize, but then go get the information. I remember I was even very young when mom would always be like, go find out. You go ask.
And I’m, whether I want something. Okay, go ask for it I’m not gonna do it for you. You go figure it out and see. So at a very young age, I had to tailor my communication style to people. So I learned about people because at a young age, both my mom and my dad would push me to just be like, I. Hey, you go figure it out in yourself. I would say those are the two things that I think I took away a lot as growing up. Even though I had, the product of divorced parents, there was a lot of love and respect, debate was encouraged and empowered to go learn.
You’ll figure it out, go figure it out on yourself. And that’s, I think, one of the best ways to learn. You can learn it from books for sure, but you can also learn it by experimenting and trying different things. I’ve carried that forward with me as part of my leadership token.
Murray: Yeah. Well, I think what happens is when people are under stress and there is a lot of stress in leadership. Let’s be honest. They fall back on, what they know best, which is like what you were saying before about the training in the military, you train and train. So when you’re under a lot of stress, you can just do what you need to do and that frees you up to think. Hey, let’s talk about red team thinking because you’ve started working with an organization called Red Team Thinking and I’m quite intrigued to find out what it is. So tell us all about Red Team thinking
Jose: So in the military, I was exposed to the concept, the principles of red teaming, which is really a structured way to challenge the plans. So think of it as you have red teams and blue teams, and I you role play and your scenario play contingencies on all your mission battle plans. And so you would have the good guys and the bad guys and you 3, 4, 5 people. You have to act as the insurgents, as .The bad guys, and you have to attack everything that we’re gonna do. Sometimes it’s a paper exercise, sometimes it’s a live exercise. And so I learned that’s a really great way to challenge assumptions and make strategies better, make plans better. It helps you lower the risk. It helps you think about the things that you haven’t thought about. Maybe highlight some areas where you might wanna start thinking about some things, the contingencies. And most important, what are the triggers that you can see early enough so that you can act upon them and anticipate them.
So that’s what I learned in school. And then I really learned it a lot when I was an Air Force officer. We did a lot of red teaming in response to nine 11. Like I said, I was responsible for, big security system that we deployed to security forces, and my system was being deployed all over the world and we were running 24 hour ops and all this other stuff. So we would have to red team supply chain scenarios and where could we move product from here if something happens, if we need to shift our supply chain to this particular area of responsibility, now we need to ship it over here. What does that look like? What’s the timing? So we would red team, our own exercises, and then at Squadron Officer School, one of the leadership schools for when you get promoted to captain, you do red teaming exercises there. You learn about red teaming as part of military intelligence as well.
So red teaming has been something I’ve known from the military days, but I didn’t hear about it in the civilian world at all.
It was called risk management contingency planning. but I never experienced it. I would ask questions just because of my nature of, I wanna know, why do you think that’s true? And when we would see strategic plans and through that training, I was asking questions that got me labeled as the divergent thinker, Oh, you’re the antagonist. You’re the divergent thinker, you’re the innovator. So I started getting tagged this stuff, even though, I was asking questions a red teamer would ask. So fast forward many years. And, I was working with a leader of a business, when I was running a global marketing team.
She was part of the North America business. She called me up and said, Hey, I’ve got this project . I love my team. I think the innovation is great. I’m just concerned it’s insufficient. She listened to her instincts. She was reaching out to folks that she knew that were divergent type thinkers, contrarian thinkers.
She said, can you help us facilitate some war gaming. I don’t like that term. I don’t like the concept. I don’t get it personally. So I said actually I just found out about Bryce Hoffman and Marcus Dimbleby and the red team thinking team.
I think they’ve actually commercialized what red teaming does in the military for commercial applications. Let me reach out to them and see what they can do. I introduced it to this business team and I brought in other type of divergent contrarian thinkers that weren’t even on the business. ’cause we needed fresh eyes. That’s the other critical thing is that part of red teaming is if you have people that have built the plan, try to red team the plan.
You’re human, you’re biased, you’re not gonna call your own baby ugly. However, somebody else that’s nowhere near your business and is nowhere in your chain of command, they’ll call your baby ugly all day long. And so that’s really what I did. And I introduced it for the first time with this North America business when they were trying to launch a product innovation.
And with the red team thinking guys and the business team, we really worked through all the different tools that they introduced. The five why’s, six strategic questions. We went through hypothesis scenarios. We did assumptions challenges. We did a bunch of different exercises that the red team thinking guys bring to the table. And we were able to harden the strategy of the original innovation plan because we interrogated it from all kinds of angles, but we also came up with other type of potential future innovations that we might wanna do.
For that particular business. So the power of red teaming has been a huge unlock, at least for me in the commercial world, thus far.
Shane: What I think you’re saying is that the red team is the approach of challenge and having a team outside the group who created it to challenge it. And then there’s just a bunch of patterns that we may or may not use typically anyway that the red team used to challenge those assumptions. Is that what I heard?
Jose: Spot on. Yeah. that’s a great summary. That’s exactly right.
Murray: Hey, you talked about applying Agile in your teams and helping other teams apply it. what did you think about the agile ideas when you first came across them coming from a military background? And then how do you think they apply to leadership?
Jose: So my initial exposure to Agile was when I first started project management in the Air Force. I didn’t see the Agile manifesto. I didn’t see the four values. I didn’t really understand them until much later. That weren’t really discussed as a new paradigm for leadership and execution.
Fast forward a decade and a half, and now I’m in corporate America and we’re learning about Agile values, what they are, what the Agile manifesto is, and the more deep I got into understanding what the Agile manifesto was, what the values and the principles were, I started seeing as it an imperative to deliver incremental value, at speed. And I really focused on the teams that I was teaching and facilitating on adopting agile ways of working to say incremental value has to be a key. Incremental, because it can’t be where you’re doing the same things and you’re not actually driving incremental growth on anything. Who determines the value? It can’t be internal or self-serving. So value has to be determined by the customer, by the external view, not the internal view. And then minimum viable products, minimum viable bureaucracy, work in process, small and empowered team. So I started seeing Agile as a leadership imperative later in my career.
Murray: I dunno if you know this, but Jeff Sutherland, one of the founders of Scrum, was a US Air Force pilot who flew, a reconnaissance aircraft across Vietnam for 11 years. So he is a fighter pilot and went to west Point. and, there’s this concept in the military of an after action review, And that seems to be a lot like the retrospective in scrum actually.
Jose: that’s right.
Murray: Yeah. And mission planning. That’s like sprint planning.
Jose: That’s right.
Murray: Yeah. Yeah. It’s interesting.
Jose: NOTAMs are noticed to airmen. And NOTAMs can be the minimum acceptance criteria that you need for your user stories, and so you start seeing that a lot of the military principles , you can superimpose them over the concepts of agile, not just the values, but the concepts and the practices for sure.
Murray: So you’ve been in leadership positions, I think. Were you a VP at Kimberly Clark?
Jose: Senior director,
Murray: Senior director. Okay. So how do you apply these ideas of leadership that you’ve got from, mission command, red teaming, capability building as a leader in a private sector organization?
Jose: very carefully. It’s really starts with diagnosing where people are. It always starts with people first. ’cause every leader, every organization, every team that I would interact with, I know, Shane, you’d mentioned that a lot of the, a lot of the patterns, you would still reuse them even though a team would come to me and say, here’s our strategy. I would still force them to go through the six strategic questions, which they probably already did in some form, but I would force them to run it through the red team thinking version to ensure that they even had answers to all of them. And oftentimes they didn’t.
Murray: What are the six strategic questions?
Jose: So what problem are we’re trying to solve? Is it the right problem? If we do this, what are we choosing not to do? And then if we succeed, what do we look like? What do they look like? And what does the category industry look like?
A lot of teams don’t ask themselves these questions, but they come up with beautiful strategic business plans for three to five years, and they’ve never answered these questions.
Murray: Yeah. We find that a lot of people are taking orders from senior stakeholders without question and just implementing them. They’ve got the brains and the skills to be able to interrogate those orders but they just don’t. They just become a factory producing product features.
Jose: That’s fear. I think you talked about in one of the podcasts that I heard is that they’re optimizing career interest and they’re afraid that if they raise their voice or say, hold on a second, is this really gonna satisfy their problem or trying to achieve that, they’re going to get crushed for it.
And that’s unfortunate because that leader has missed the opportunity to really make an impact on that team. Because maybe that leader never got any training, never knew how to lead teams, never understood agile principles, practices, or ways to coach others to increase psychological safety. All those things they never learned how so they just, are very top down project management directive. Thou shall do this. Give me the update.
Murray: Yeah, that’s basically what you’re taught as you go through the corporate world. I noticed that there’s a red team handbook in the US Army that you can look up on Google.
Jose: Yeah, exactly. Pretty cool. We’re not creating something from scratch. It’s just do you have the discipline to go through these patterns, these practices, in a structured way? And that’s what the red team thinking guys have really done, is they just packaged it really well and created a program that allows you to do bespoke project work or train others so that they become better critical thinkers essentially.
Shane: So yeah. The defense forces seem to share a lot. We’ve had a number of people on the podcast and we’ve googled some of the stuff they’re talking about and there’s a defense force document that’s been published to the world open sourced with all their learnings. but for some reason we don’t look for them. We always go to the agile websites or the product websites.
Jose: What you end up having is like the Sutherlands of the world. The guys from manager tools. You have a lot of Navy seals that publish books ’cause there’s learning there that can be applied to the commercial sector. It’s just a question of does that person want to become the expert or the defacto expert and create a program around it.
Jose: A lot of the folks from Prosci, change management, were ex-military or came from the military. They’re military brats. So it’s interesting, you see a connective tissue around structured problem solving, team-based leadership, servant leadership, and focused economies of force And thinking. And those are some endemic things that you see come to life.
Have you got any stories you can tell about where you’ve been able to help somebody improve their leadership skills?
Jose: I’ll give you two stories. Early in my career in the commercial world, I had a small team and I had a technical leader for this business. He was newer to the team, and I wasn’t getting the level of involvement or effort on the technical side for the product that I needed to launch within the next 12 to 18 months. Then me being who I am, I said, what needs to be true to launch it in less than six months? And it was very much a lot of pushback. That’s impossible. We’ve never done that. I’m like, just because we’ve never done it doesn’t mean we can’t.
The challenge was that this individual has been sold to me as, one of the smartest people you will ever meet. He’s visionary and he can really change the trajectory of the business. So I had this disconnect. I had a disengaged individual, but was told that he is one of the , smartest people, that we have in the company. So he’s a poor performer he is not meeting his objectives. I was very siloed in my thinking in terms of here’s what I need from him. He’s not delivering it, so therefore as a gap, therefore it’s a performance issue. I’ve been trained to think about leadership differently but I was under stress. I was under pressure, and I fell back to project managing a human
Jose: And so work with my leader. I misdiagnosed. We had a great conversation. Turns out that he just didn’t understand the requirements of what we were trying to do. I was actually restraining him based off of a time box that I had set up. If we were to unconstrain him, he had a plan, a glide path for innovation that was going to grow the business two x what I had done through Excel sheets and project management. So I, completely missed that.
Through that interaction I learned to better unlock people’s capabilities , take away any of the restrictions from the day to day and just ask them, what is your career development? Do you understand what we’re trying to do with the business? If they don’t understand what they’re try to do with the business, great. I need to tell them this is what we’re trying to go with the business. Do you understand what your role is in achieving that ambition? So then now you’re starting to enroll ’em and say, yeah, I understand the ambition. I think I understand my role within that ambition. And then you start talking, how does that ladder up to what you wanna do in your career? So you’re getting buy-in from the individual to deliver that ambition and you’re taking off all the handcuffs or the restrictions of a time bound or a number because maybe they can take that ambition to the next level.
And that’s what I brought into this other individual. She didn’t see herself as being able to be the leader of the organization. She saw herself as an individual contributor, despite the fact that she had many individuals that would go to her as a coach, as a mentor, and a leader of people. But again, it’s walking her through do you know what the organization needs? Do you see your role within that organization? Here’s the evidence that says that you are ready for that elevated role. What needs to be true for you to take on that role? So
I used those two stories to give you the where I started and where I ended up from. because even me as a trained leader to a trained person, I still fell back to old, bad behaviors. And it takes time and practice and constant reminders that if you meet people where they’re at and you really focus on their development and where they are respective to what you’re trying to achieve, you truly see unlocked performance.
Shane: So, there’s an interesting thing in the coaching and mentoring market where there are a bunch of people who have been on the field, they’ve done the job and then they get the skills to coach a mentor. And there’s a bunch of people who are coaches and mentors but have never done that role.
I tend to coach data and analytics teams ’cause that’s my expertise. I’ve done that work. I’m not particularly effective if I’m outside my domain. What’s your opinion? Should you have, led a team of people for a period of time before you can mentor and coach somebody else how to do it?
Jose: So I’m a big, proponent of the player that becomes the coach. Like you’ve been there, you’ve seen it, you’ve done the reps, and you’ve evolved over time and you’ve got some battle scars. So yeah, I’m much more on the former, which is the player coach on the field.
I’ve seen both, where coaches that have never played are excellent coaches. I’ve also seen where excellent players make horrible coaches. They can’t make the transition to the booth, but by and large, I think you can improve the likelihood of a player becoming, an effective coach through training capability building.
Murray: Yeah, I agree. We’ve got this unfortunate phenomena in the Agile coaching community where a bunch of people are basically selling counseling. Agile coaching is personal counseling and team counseling, and it’s all comes out of the therapy and addiction and executive coaching community. And they have been busily trying to redefine agile coaching as something that, that knowledge gets in the way. It’s bizarre. Anyway I think we need to go to summaries. Shane. So what do you think? What do you got?
Shane: So you started off with a really interesting idea, which is this idea that training creates shared principles and language. And it made me think of the scrum coaching, where people go on a two day course. And that two day course is highly valuable because they get to learn the manifesto, they get to see the principles that drive the way we work. They get a taste of the language we use, product owner, those things.
The second thing you talked about is this idea of repetitive training. This idea of repetition gives us muscle memory. We are getting taught how to deal with the common scenario So we do those ones off the bat, and then we deal with those unique ones, because we have a toolkit that we can use. I liken it to the idea of some of the dojo patterns, training people as they do their job so they can get the ground stakes and then they can deal with the adaption when they get back into the organization outside the dojo and deal with all the things that nobody taught them.
And we don’t train people as they’re promoted. We might coach them. We might give them a mentor or something like that, but we don’t actually train them on the role of the job. And so if we think about people that work up in an organization from the bottom, from doing those tasks to a leadership role, we probably forget they are getting a change of identity. The things that they knew and they were good at they, they no longer do that, they now do something else. So they have to redefine themselves, What happens is you’ve been promoted and not been given any assistance or training on how to do your next role. So that’s where the problem is. That’s the thing we need to fix.
I love the arc of an officer’s career versus arc of a corporate manager. That was for me just brilliant. When you’re, in the forces and you’re about to get promoted you either get training before you get promoted or training straight after you get promoted to do the next role . That training refreshes your skills, gives you the new skills, and you build onto that. Whereas if we look at the arc of a corporate manager you are, good at what you do, and then you get promoted to your highest level in competence. You move from doing the work to helping people do the work, and that is a whole new set of skills. So very rarely do we see training to increase competency when you go into those leadership roles. It something we need to fix.
And this whole conversation we had about where do servant leaders actually learn those skills? Where do they get that experience? So Murray talked about getting it from your family. I can see some other places that people learn those behaviors and those skills.
Then we talked about red team. So bringing somebody else in to take that red team behavior and give them permission to challenge the plant. And if we think about corporates, We only challenge the plan when it’s a political move, typically, it’s okay, you’re another senior exec, you’re a dick. I’m gonna go challenge your plan. ’cause I’m actually gonna challenge you.
But we’re not fostering this team behavior of we’re all gonna get to the same goal and outcome. So here’s some thoughts, give me some feedback, let’s challenge it, but let’s challenge it in a structured way.
The anti-patent is a risk workshop in a corporate organization. Where we sit down and we list the risks and we list the mitigations into a spreadsheet, and then we put them in a drawer and we throw them away for another three months until the audit committee asks to see our risks again.
So this pattern of using five wise, six strategic questions there’s no one around assumptions that you mentioned. Using these approaches to test things and having another team test it in a safe way, is a great patent that I think I love.
The next part was, defense forces publish a lot of great content. We just dunno where it is and we dunno where to find it. So that, that was interesting. So that was me, Murray, what do you got?
Murray: Yeah. I think that in the corporate sector, people learn leadership on the job . They learn it from the people around them, and they learn the skills necessary to be promoted within there bureaucracy and corporate bureaucracies can be different, but there’s a lot of similarities between the big ones.
First you’ve gotta learn how to do your function quite well. And then the people who advance, most my experience, are the best at the internal corporate politics. There’s a lot of different ways you can be good at that. There’s good and evil ways of advancing in the corporate political hierarchy. You see both.
What’s really interesting though is just this total lack of investment in educating our leaders. And the Army and the Air Force, I think are very good at investing in training people and training leaders. And the corporate sector spends almost nothing on it.
Or if they do spend something on it, it’s just some fig leaf that looks good and is really completely useless. Maybe it’s makes people feel good for a little while, but they don’t really learn anything valuable. I found for me, the Manager Tools podcast were an excellent way of learning about basic people management. Like you need to do one-on-ones, half an hour once a week with your direct reports, and here’s how you do it. Here’s how you give feedback in a way that’s not going to make people feel threatened. Like how to give feedback in a positive way. Super basic stuff. I never learned any of that in my 30 years in corporate world, and I didn’t even have any models for that. Most of the time
Murray: A lot of leaders are just generally bad at that. That’s a real shame and there’s a real value to be gained by building capability. Even the concept of building the capability of your teams is actually quite foreign for a lot of corporate organizations.
And one thing I’ve learned is that if you are a leader who does care about building the capability of your team, they will realize that, and they will respond much better to you. They will be much more positive about achieving the goal if they feel that you are invested in them and their progress and their capabilities. So it’s well worth doing. You get a better team and you get people who are much more committed and cooperative.
I think there’s been a big gap in leadership in the Agile community. I think that there’s this area of leadership, what we might call agile leadership, open leadership, servant leadership, mission command. There’s a lot to be learned by our community from. Mission command and red teaming and all of that sort of thing.
I think there’s a lot we can do better in leadership. Whether you call it agile leadership or mission command or servant leadership, there’s this whole, collection of ideas that go really well together. They go really well with agile values and principles. They’re very important for being innovative and responsible in a volatile complex, ambiguous and uncertain world.
Our organizations today they are set up for a previous era. Most of them, they’re set up for a slow changing world in which you would develop products and push them on people ’cause they didn’t have any choices and they would just have to take what you got and you just flogged it on tv. ’cause that was, pretty much the only way people got information. Tv, radio, bit of newspapers.
Murray: But now the world is fast moving, highly competitive, highly variable. And I think that the big old organizations are just in long-term decline. I can think of a big telco I worked with and they’re in long-term decline. They started off having a huge amount of market share and their more innovative competitors have just been growing and growing. So if you don’t do this stuff you’ll keep going for quite a while, but then one day you’re gonna be Blockbuster video.
Murray: So it’s super important. Okay. I really appreciate it. So how can people find out more about, about you and what you think and your writing and so on.
Jose: So I’m writing a book with Marcus from the Red Team thinking, and he and I are gonna focus on new team leaders. Cause we see that acute problem where you go from individual contributor, and you go right to having direct reports. You’ve never had direct reports in your life and so you are now looking for ways to deliver incremental value at speed. So we’re launching a book called Big Things Fast, and it’s focused specifically on new team leaders seeking breakthrough performance, but something simple, something that they could literally do tomorrow. You read the book, you go to the page you need and you can do what you need based on the most frequently faced issues a new team leader, a new manager might face .
So they can go to big things fast.com. You’ll see, I was on a video cast, with the red team thinking guys. And then, you’ll see there some anecdotes, some testimonials, some from Marcus and I. And you can also sign up for the newsletter that I write out every two to three weeks. I’ll put out a piece, in support of big things, fast, agile leadership, transformative leadership, continuous improvement, all those things we talked about today and acutely focused on new team leaders. That’s my focus right now because yeah, can other people learn about it? Aspiring team leaders or long in the tooth team leaders?
Sure. But I’m focused on that new team leader just got put in that position and maybe they, they don’t have a leadership training program. But they can at least read the newsletter and get some tips and tricks and techniques on making their lives just a little bit easier.
Murray: All right. That’s great. Thanks for coming on, Jose.
Jose: Thank you. Appreciate the time, appreciate the questions and the dialogue. It was awesome.
Murray: That was a no-nonsense. Agile podcast from Murray Robinson and Shane Gibson. If you’d like help to create high value digital products and services, contactMurray@evolve.co. That’s evolve with a zero. Thanks. For listening.
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