AgileSweet Leadership

I want first of all to introduce myself to you. You do not know me. I do not know
you. But we have got to work together. Therefore we must understand each other and we must have confidence in each other. I have only been here a few hours. But from what I have seen and heard since I arrived I am prepared to say, here and now, that I have confidence in you. We will then work together as a team.

– Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, KG, GCB, DSO, PC, DL

A leader makes decisions that influence others in order to achieve the realisation of an objective.


Leaders maximise creativity and productivity through relationships and standards that optimise communication and ownership.

1. Ownership – Enshrine a culture of Extreme Ownership*, everyone owns the objectives, owns the problems, owns the solutions. The leader always credits others.

2. Relationships – Come from communication. Lead people not resources, lead in all directions, listen to everyone, flank, provide purpose, autonomy and mastery.

3. Standards – Are set by the leader, and are not what is stated but what is demonstrably accepted.

What is leadership?

This is a difficult question to answer, because leadership is a complex and a deeply human concept.

Until I read Extreme Ownership and began listening to the Jocko Podcast I was simply stiving to be the best possible agile project manager. I set optimisation of communication as the key factor for maximising creativity and productivity. Now I see that it is about being a leader, not a manager, and it is leadership that optimises communication and thus value.

What makes a successful leader?

Listen, Thanks and Follow Up

Provide Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose

Optimise Communication, Creativity and Productivity

Listen, thank, and follow up was the best advice for managers that I’d read, and these behavious require a leader to be humble, respectful and disciplined. A humble and respectful leader will listen and thank, and a disciplined leader will follow up.

In Brief:

Constrained Optimisation, Uncertainty, Ownership

To start, leadership is about making decisions. The decissions that matter, the ones that define a successful leader, always involve trade-offs. In economics this called constrained optimisation, with the classical example being ‘opportunity cost’ – the cost of implementing feature X is deferring the opportunity to implement feature Y.

A decision is a choice between two or more options. Decisions have outcomes. If the best outcome was known at the time of the choosing, it would be no choice at all.

Uncertainty pervades everything. Embrace it.


Listen, Thank and Follow Up

Humble, respectful, disciplined.

Yes, please, thank you.

Provide Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose

  1. Leaders Embrace Extreme Ownership
  2. There Are No Bad Teams, Only Bad Leaders.
  3. Mission Clarity. Commanders Intent. 3 Objectives.
  4. Keep Your Ego in Check. Listen. Own your mistakes.
  5. Act Decisively. Cover and Move.
  6. Simplicity and Clarity.
  7. Prioritize and Execute.
  8. Decentralized Command.
  9. Manage Up and Manage Down.
  10. Discipline Equals Freedom.

The Dichotomy of Leadership

Leadership requires a balance between seemingly opposite traits:

  • Must lead but also be able to follow, putting aside ego to follow better ideas and those who take charge.
  • Calm, but not robotic. Logical but not devoid of emotions. Team members must know Leaders care. Leaders who lose temper, also lose respect. People do not follow robots.
  • Brave but not reckless. Mitigate those risks that can be controlled.
  • Aggressive but not overbearing. Courageous but not foolhardy. Strong but also with physical and mental endurance.
  • Close with subordinates but not too close. Know their people and their motivations. But not so close than one member becomes more important than another, more important than the mission.
  • Confident but never cocky. Confidence is contagious. Overconfidence causes complacency and arrogance.
  • Have a competitive spirit but also be a gracious loser. Push the team to perform at the highest levels but never put their own drive for personal success above mission success.
  • Attentive to details but not obsessed by them. A good leader does not get bogged down in the minutia of a tactical problem at the expense of strategic success.
  • Quiet but not silent. Speak up when it matters.
  • Competitive but a gracious loser. Recognize limitations. Admit mistakes and take ownership of mistakes.
  • Humble but not passive. Act with professionalism and recognize others for their contributions. The leader is in charge. Able to execute extreme ownership while exercising de-centralized command.


Lead people. Deliver results.

  1. Ownership – own the objectives, own the problems, own the solutions. Credit others.
  • This is the missing link in most agile methods.
  • There is no such thing as a bad team, only a bad leader.
  • Every fault belongs to the leader, they can never blame anyone.
  • When their team sees them taking ownership, the team will take ownership.
  • Ownership means owning the solution to the problem.
  1. Relationships – lead in all directions, listen, flank, provide purpose, autonomy and mastery.
  • The leader must lead in all directions, mentoring down and managing up.
  • The most engaged knowledge workers are engaged because they have:
    • Mastery – a challenge to conquer that helps them grow
    • Autonomy – freedom to solve problems their way (but a leader must still know when to join in and help or guide)
    • Purpose
  • Leader must be able to change their mind on a directive when they hear a better idea.
  1. Standards – are not what is stated but what is demonstrably accepted.
  • The leader must set the standards by upholding them.
  • The leader must review which standards are still applicable in the retrospective meetings.