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Emotional Intelligence for Agile Project Managers, Scrum Masters, Leaders and Coaches

I am working on the second edition of my emotional intelligence book and one of the things I am excited about is adding a whole new chapter on how emotional intelligence (EQ) is applied in Agile teams.  This includes all those soft skills that Agile team leaders, scrum masters, project managers and other stakeholders need.  This is going to be a combination of the two things I am very passionate about so I am excited to dig in.  Also, with the growth of Agile methods in organizations, I think the second edition would be incomplete if it did not address leading Agile projects.

Interpersonal skills are critical to leading Agile teams. I saw the connection between emotional intelligence and Agile teams very clearly when reading Alyssa Adkin’s book, Coaching Agile Teams.  Alyssa reminds us of many things that we probably already know but that we may be too busy or distracted to put into regular practice.  Her entire book is a gem and a must read for anyone who is leading or coaching an Agile team.  I will be focusing on the parallels between emotional mastery and the skills required to effectively lead Agile teams.

Here is a laundry list of some of the ideas and themes that I plan to explore over the next month or two.

  • Command and control leadership in Agile Teams is a non-starter.  The key to success with Agile Teams is Servant Leadership.  We will explore both what servant leadership looks like, as well as explore some ideas for those of us who have relied heavily on the commanding style of leadership in the past.
  • The Agile team leader/scrum master needs to practice being in the moment with their teams.  That means focusing on the here and now, and being fully present and engaged.
  • Using our own emotional self-awareness is a great source of information about what is going on.  How we feel, is a reflection of the emotional mix within the team.
  • Agile leaders need to be willing to quietly leave space for other members of self-organizing teams.  In other words, Agile leaders often need to be less, so that others can step forward and be more.  This will be hard for some of us who are accustomed to speaking, or feel it is our job to step into the void, or that we know more than others know.
  • With self-organizing teams, it is the leader or coach’s job to help the team figure out for themselves what to do next, rather than solving it for them.  Adkins often uses the expression ‘Take it to the Team“.  This reminds me a lot of what my mentor Rich used to say, which I considered one of those Jedi mind tricks – “What do you think you should do?”  He would sometimes take it to the next level with me when I responded with, “I don’t know”.  He would say, “Well if you did know, what do you think the answer would be?”
  • Taking it to the team is closely related to the concept of positive regard.  Positive regard is assuming that the individual is whole and complete, and that they have the ability to figure things out for themselves.  It is based on the field called humanistic psychology which was pioneered by Carl Rogers.  Rogers believed that all people are inherently good, and that they have all the internal resources required to grow as individuals.
  • My book already has a number of ideas for how to be self-aware and manage our own emotions.  Adkins recommends making this a daily practice and provides several additional techniques for staying grounded that Agile leaders can put to use.
  • How our choice of words influences the conversation.  Adkins calls this the level of violence in our communications, and provides a lot of tips for how to understand and adapt.

There will be more topics that surface as we dive into this.  One that I know is relevant is about the proper functioning of other key stakeholders in the Agile ecosystem; program managers, functional managers, the PMO, and executive leaders.

I welcome your comments and feedback and look forward to digging in to the topics over the next few weeks.