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Advice from the world’s top Agile leadership coach, Part 1

August 22, 2018

Advice from the world’s top Agile leadership coach, Part 1

Labs continually fosters and encourages self development. Of all the personal growth resources made available to the Labs team, one of the most valued is regular one-on-one coaching sessions with Geoff Watts, one of the world’s foremost Agile leadership coaches.

“[Geoff] was great at identifying the underlying problems I face in getting to where I’d like to be in my career,” stated Esin Over, the first Product Managers at Labs to benefit from Geoff’s coaching. “The self awareness he brought, along with practical tips, has made a huge impact in my daily work life.”

Esin is one of many at Labs who has upped their game and gotten more enjoyment out of work through Geoff’s Scrum coaching and career advice. Recently, Geoff took time from his busy coaching schedule to answer some questions related to Agile principles and his approach to coaching.

How do you help people overcome their fear of change?

This is at the heart of what I do. I find everyone is in some form of conflict. They want to change something, but don’t feel confident to go for it. I talk about a “change equation”. For anyone to make a change, they first must want that change. Then the benefits have to outweigh the costs of that change and the risk of failure.

I tend to work on three variables: accentuating the potential benefit of the change, reducing the costs of change, and increasing the chances of success. I have a video about this very topic.

What businesses are best at adopting an Agile?

Those with leaders who walk the talk and model the Agile principles with their own behaviours, values and actions. This is something I am working on at the moment — creating a framework and tools for leaders to get real-time feedback on the congruence of their actions. They can then inspect and adapt, continuously shaping the culture in tiny steps.

How do your one-on-one coaching sessions begin?

When I start working with someone, I have an obligation to establish a few aspects of our coaching relationship — most importantly, that of confidentiality. For a coachee to be able to trust me, they have to know that what we talk about will stay between us.

Sometimes people are already familiar with coaching. In which case, I would establish any preferences they have with regards to style, approach, degree of challenge, etc.

When we get to me asking questions, I really just want to find out about that person — how they have come to be where they are, what they enjoy, what their hopes, values and ambitions are...Ultimately I want to know what their goals for coaching are and where I might be able to help.

What are three ways to become more Agile?

There are three pillars to empiricism which is the heart of Agile: transparency, inspection and adaptation. So these would be my suggested areas of focus.

First of all, become more comfortable with transparency — about the situation, your current status, and yourself. Then be brave enough to look at what you have made transparent, while being aware that we don’t see the world as it is, but rather as we are (Anais Nin). Finally, practice taking small steps in the right direction without the false comfort of creating the perfect plan for the ideal state.

What are the three main roadblocks to Agile thinking?

There are a few common patterns. It is important to realise that these patterns manifest in almost everyone (even me). They can be broken down given time, desire and practice.

The first roadblock is our “non-agile” habits, built up over the course of our education and career, that we don’t realise are deeply ingrained. When under stress, we revert to what we know. Often we aren’t conscious of our unhelpful habits. Coaching can help with this. Then, as we “fall back” over time, coaching can help us recognise this and practice strategies for embedding new habits.

The second is our confidence to be vulnerable and “fail”. Trying something new involves opening ourselves up to the reality of our situation and the chance of our efforts not being successful. This is scary. Some people will prefer not to try than risk trying and “failing”. For me there is no failure if there is an attempt.

The final roadblock is having the resilience, patience and determination to instil the disciplines of new habits. This is where a long-term relationship with a coach can be invaluable.

Read Part 2