Agile Australia and Intent based Leadership

Today I went to Agile Australia as an attendee. That’s a first for me, usually, I’m speaking. It was wonderful to go with a different purpose, which is to learn from others. Typically, if I’m speaking I’m so focused on ‘my talk’ and getting ready for ‘my talk’ that I don’t feel very open to learning new ideas.


I’m glad I went, because I had the opportunity to listen to David Marquet’s (nuclear submarine commander) talk about the abdicating control (not responsibility) to the people who worked for him. In a military organisation I can’t imagine the mindset shift & the struggle his crew must have felt!


There were many aspects of the talk I enjoyed, how subtle changes in  language was used to help people think differently. For example instead of his crew requesting permission, they informed authority by using the phrase “I intend”. He emphasised the need for constant training and drills to help keep people prepared for when the inevitable mistakes were made. I also liked the concept of pushing ‘authority down’, allowing his crew to control their decision making.


The biggest resonator though was his perspective that you can’t change people, all you can do is provide an environment where people can change themselves. After all “When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.” I have this ideology too in building & developing test teams. In 2013 I spoke at Tasting Let’s Test about building a context driven test team. In it, I talk about creating a habitat where testers can thrive and grow, with a focus on coaching to support that work. I’m working hard to create a habitat like that in Tyro Payments.


The underlying belief he had was that “people are fine the way they are stop trying to fix them” struck deeply with me. If you start with that premise you come to coaching with a different mindset. And just like I came to Agile Australia with a mindset of learning this year as opposed to speaking, I can approach coaching with intent to listen instead of teach. Instead of focusing on where a person needs to be, you think of were a person is. The spotlight is placed on the person not your perception of that person.  Perhaps it’s subtle differences like this that can make all the difference in coaching. Or maybe not. I don’t know. It’s an experiment, but one I’m performing on myself rather than on other people.


And I think that’s exactly how we all like to learn.

6 Comments

  1. What does coaching practically look like when the focus is on where the person is instead of where you think they should be?

    Reply

    1. I like questions that make me think!
      1) Being an active listener is important. Am I really listening to a person, or am I more focused on what I want to say.
      2) Get Socratic. This helps the person go from where they are than were you think they should be
      3) Allow for what you perceive as failure (to them it may simply be learning something new)

      Think back on the times you made decisions that you now see in hindsight as mistakes. I bet a lot of the time you don’t regret being allowed to make that decision (you may regret the outcome!).

      Reply

  2. Very insightful. As a tester who has recently delved into learning about coaching and leadership, I’m getting the listening part down. It is taking what I’ve heard and making next steps with my team members where I struggle.

    Also, the link on “building a context driven test team” does not lead to your SlideShare presentation as it should.

    Reply

  3. Well said, sound thinking. Question for you, what do you think is specifically different about coaching test professionals compared coaching other professionals like managers or developers?

    Reply

    1. Let’s explore what it might be like to coach a developer on coding. It probably requires pairing with them, allowing them to perform a task and then explore the reasoning behind the choices made. The coach might highlight some patterns or good choices, and explain why the were good choices, or they might question some of the choices made and discuss alternatives and why they might be more useful. For this type of coaching it helps to have a development background and be competent in coding. It’s the same with testing.

      There’s other style of coaching, but this is the type of coaching I like to do.

      Reply

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