Podcast - Using Leadership by Design in Agile Transformations

  1. Home
  2. >
  3. Blog
  4. >
  5. Agile
  6. >
  7. Agile Transformations​​

Lean-Agile environments require a different leadership approach to traditional more hierarchical organizations to enable increased innovation and speed to market.  Join Charles Wilman, Sarafine Baz, and Matthew Powell as they discuss how to utilize leadership by design techniques to design a future that has the right culture to drive agility and transformational change.

Table of Contents


  • Introduction [00:00]
  • Leadership’s Changing Context [02:22]
  • Leadership by Design’s Value [04:39]
  • Pitfalls to Avoid [08:10]


Charles Wilman: Hello, we hope we find you safe and well, welcome to our latest podcast from us here at MIGSO-PCUBED. I’m Charles Wilman and I’m delighted to say that today, I will be exploring a really interesting topic with my esteemed colleagues, Sarafine Baz and Matthew Powell. Hello, Sarafine.

Sarafine Baz: Hiya thanks for having me.

Charles Wilman: And hello, Matt.

Matthew Powell: Hi Charles. Thanks for having me.

Charles Wilman: The topic today is Using Leadership by Design in Agile Transformational Change. Now, this is something I know little about and so I am particularly exciting hearing what Sarafine and Matt have to say about it. And without further ado, let’s get to it. 

Matt, I’ll come to you first. What is leadership and what do we know about it?

Matthew Powell: Thanks Charles. So people and leadership are the heartbeat of organizations and the way they are run. So leadership is something that scholars and academics have been trying to define for decades.

However, we know to lead, we need followers. So it’s not about positions or titles. Leadership can occur all levels. So why are people choosing to follow you? What’s the incentive?

The question then becomes about how that occurs – either through extreme autocratic or transactional behaviors, which may create followership through fear – so losing jobs, et cetera, poor performance – or through democratic and transformational type approaches, which empower teams and harness the input of others, providing work fulfillment and security of socio-economic needs of teams.

Both will have followers, but both will also have extremely different cultures and operational environments. Leadership is not a title or position and that’s important. It’s a complex moral relationship between people based on trust, obligation, commitment, emotion, and importantly, a shared vision. 

But it’s displayed by a person’s capacity and will to rally people towards a common purpose together with the character that inspires confidence and trust in others. Edward L Flom, the CEO of Florida Steel Corporation, made a speech in 1987 and said one of the hardest tasks of leadership is understanding that you are not what you are, but who you perceive to be by others.

Charles Wilman: That’s great. That’s a really good introduction, Matt. Thank you.

Leadership's Changing Context

Charles Wilman: So what I’d like to ask next Matt is in the modern organization, how is leadership potentially changing?

Matthew Powell: So we hit the fourth industrial revolution and its associated megatrends are driving an increased rate of change and ambiguity in current and future markets. Technology is rapidly evolving and forcing organizations to be more dynamic and responsive to meet the evolving demands of customers through increased business agility and innovation.

This is what’s driving an increased demand to use agile frameworks and embarking on agile transformations. So Lean-Agile environments require a different leadership approach to traditional hierarchical structured organizations to enable increased innovation and speed to market.

So because of this, the author of the book the Lean CEO provided a quote – Sir Jacob Stoller – saying the basic tenants of lean agility challenge many of the aspects of traditional management theory and cause for a mindset that is foreign to most senior executives.

Charles Wilman: Okay. So what’s the difference?

Sarafine Baz: I can help you out with that guys. So within organizations that are hierarchical, you tend to find that people are rule-orientated or power-orientated, or they have a mixture.

Within these traits, you tend to find that within the power orientation, that there’s low cooperation within team members, there’s kind of a blame game that goes on within these teams. Responsibilities are very secluded within those members of the team, and within the system, you tend to find that innovation is not thriving and it’s kind of crushed.

Whereas within the rule-orientated side, we tend to find that they do cooperate a little bit more. There’s a little more boundaries on how people interact with each other, but those boundaries are limited and people know their responsibilities. Collaboration is there, but it’s just tolerated.

We tend to find that innovation is a problem. It goes back to that blame game and this is something that organizations tend to struggle with. Tying back into what Matt was saying about the megatrends and the way the world is moving at the moment; it’s not always going to be the driving force of organizations to behave like this anymore.

Charles Wilman: Great. Thank you. That makes a lot of sense.

Leadership by Design's Value

Charles Wilman: Coming back to the title of this podcast in fact, using leadership by design in agile transformational change, I would like to ask you what is leadership by design and what’s the value in implementing it?

Sarafine Baz: That’s a great question, Charles. So leadership by design is a concept of understanding your organization’s current leadership philosophy, the capability, and also understanding the culture that is created from that, and then comparing them against other leadership styles and cultures within the organization to help create a future business model. 

This enables the organization to create appropriate change, to release full benefits, and create a future strategic operating model that has the right culture adopted within it.

To support the megatrends and be at the forefront of customer markets, a generative culture is needed. And we see that from the demand on technology, within organizations, within these megatrends, that we need higher cooperation, we need to understand our responsibilities are shared and we can collaborate with each other – that failure is not a detriment to an organization.

To learn more, check out Lean-Agile Leadership from Scaled Agile.

We learn from it. We don’t wait till the very end and then think, oh my God, I did this really wrong and we’ve spent millions of pounds. We want to say upfront, how can we improve from that and not create a blame culture.

What that enables is us implementing an innovative culture within organizations. Organizations that allow us to help create products that our consumers need and resolve the issues that they’re having in the market.

What we tend to find is within Agile Transformational projects, in my experience, leadership by design qualities are as follows.  We need emotional intelligence. We need leaders that have an understanding of self-awareness and motivation, because that is something that we can then instill within our teams and help bring out those agile values of having courage, and empowerment, and transparency.

We also need to be able to help support and grow each other professionally, technically and give our employees and our team members guidance actually be able to evolve as human beings; as team members who are learning more innovative things and able to feel confident enough to make those decisions themselves. 

That goes on to another quality that we really need is to be able to decentralize decision-making. In current markets right now, a lot of organizations are trying to create leaders who can empower their teams to actually make decisions as they are at the forefront of where the information is.

As a leader, if you’re in a hierarchical structure, you tend to be up the food chain. So it’s a lot harder for people to understand what is actually going on, what is the nitty-gritty detail and make sure we are developing products and services our clients actually want.

One of the most important things I think is authenticity, which is creating a leader that is ethical, that is honest, and that is transparent, which for me is the fundamentals of working within an agile environment. 

If our leaders don’t have those capabilities and belief in themselves and belief in their team members, we then fail to actually be able to embed that culture that we actually need and drive those high-performing teams.

Charles Wilman: Thank you Sarafine. I can identify with some of those key characteristics, actually. You’ve explained you know authenticity, emotional intelligence, lifelong learning, growing others encourages leaders, and also decentralized decision-making. I like the way that actually if you package that all up into this leadership by design, I can see how it could be a really powerful tool.

Pitfalls to Avoid

Charles Wilman: So with that in mind, from your experience, are there some good hints or tips or perhaps common pitfalls to avoid when trying to use leadership by design?

Sarafine Baz: Yeah. I think one of the biggest ones for me is a lot of organizations, especially within agile transformations, they go straight into, let’s put a new process in, let’s be Scrum, let’s do Kanban, let’s get SAFe in there or LESS or whatever it might be. But they fail to actually look at their leadership capability and strategy or, or they don’t have one at all. So for me, the biggest thing is let’s get a strategy down. Let’s understand where we’re at with our capability within that.

Matt, did you have something that you wanted to add to that?

Matthew Powell: Yeah, absolutely. I think you’re, you’re bang on the money, Sarafine. It’s just, it’s taking the time to understand your current culture. The types of mindsets you have in those leadership positions, analyzing them. And then also looking at the gap between the current and future state. What culture would you like to produce with the new ways of working and why? How can the leadership operate within that?

This will become a critical part of driving and embedding that change to ensure the right culture and mindsets are adopted throughout the transformation. And it helps set the focus in the strategy of how the leadership function will operate, but they may also need that support. So just recognition of that as well.

Sarafine Baz: Cool. So, something else you could also think about. Another key thing is – it’s okay to know that you don’t have the capability in-house to help support create these leadership capabilities. It’s good to highlight these things, especially after you have done your gap analysis and you know where you’re trying to get to as an organization. Because without that you can’t really implement the strategy or you’re probably leading yourself down a pathway that won’t actually achieve the results you actually need.

Matthew Powell: And also don’t, don’t be afraid to think outside the box or be bold. You know, we need to embrace that acceptance of failing fast and adapting quickly, as it’s a key mindset of agile frameworks and it drives continuous improvements and that’ll become prevalent as the change commences.

Sarafine Baz: That’s a really good point. And I think that to top it off, we really got to think about who those leaders are within an organization. And sometimes we might identify that some people don’t want to be leaders and that’s actually okay. We need to build strategies to support people that don’t want to be leaders but make sure they have the right leaders to support them in delivering their pieces of work.

Charles Wilman: Well Sarafine, Matt, thank you so much for sharing your insights and experience on this topic. Absolutely fascinating. To our listeners, we hope you enjoyed it wherever you are. Enjoy the rest of your day and stay safe. Thank you.

Sarafine Baz: Thanks, Charles. It’s been great.

Matthew Powell: Thanks, Charles.

Share on linkedin
Share on Linkedin
Dog reading a book
Stay in the loop

Subscribe to our Newsletter

A monthly digest of our best articles on all things Project Management.

Subscribe to
our newsletter!

Our website is not supported on this browser

The browser you are using (Internet Explorer) cannot display our content. 
Please come back on a more recent browser to have the best experience possible