Agile Leadership with Ola Tunde

Podcast Ep. 161: Agile Leadership with Ola Tunde

Agile Leadership with Ola Tunde
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Episode Description:

This week, Dan Neumann is joined by Ola Tunde to talk about agile leadership. This is certainly a recurrent topic, but a needed one, since it is easy not to really have leadership in place as part of an agile journey or even some organizations’ leaders don’t really know how to contribute.

In this episode, Ola Tunde and Dan share the differences between a manager and a leader, and the features that define a great leader, as the necessary piece for an organization to really thrive.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Key Takeaways

  • Managers are not necessarily leaders
    • A leader draws people, a manager forces them
  • Agility is a better way of doing what you have been already doing
    • A good leader is the picture of agility within the organization that people can follow. A leader must model the behavior wanted in the organization, exhibiting principles and values that others should follow, too
    • A leader is the one who knows, goes, and shows the way
    • Without a great leader, an organization can not thrive
  • A leader must always pay attention to the human factor
    • It is the responsibility of a leader to attract, retain, and even develop new talent that will fulfill the organization’s vision
    • Not everyone would be the right fit for an organization
    • Leaders who are emotional and who are not fully devoted to the people they are serving will cause the organization nothing but a commotion
    • Sometimes a leader must be ready to adjust the ways to maintain the vision when it is needed
    • People are not resources
  • The three things leaders focus on:
    • Setting direction
    • Inspiring commitment
    • Building capacity

Mentioned in this Episode:

Transcript [This transcript is auto-generated and may not be completely accurate in its depiction of the English language or rules of grammar.]

Intro: [00:03] Welcome to the Agile Coaches’ Corner by AgileThought. The podcast for practitioners and leaders seeking advice to refine the way they work and pave the path to better outcomes. Now here’s your host, coach, and agile expert, Dan Neumann.

Dan Neumann: [00:17]
Welcome to this episode of the Agile Coaches’ Corner podcast. I’m your host, Dan Neumann, and I am super excited today to be joined by Olatunde, prior guests who helped talk about some agile leadership and Tunde you and I, we’re going to be talking agile leadership, a deeper dive today. Thanks for joining.

Olatunde: [00:36]
Thank you so much, Dan, for having me.

Dan Neumann: [00:39] Leadership, I feel like is a very frequent topic, but it’s easy. It’s easy to not really have leadership in place as part of an agile journey or organizations get in the leaders don’t really know how they can contribute to the journey. And are they just supposed to be managers? I’m curious what you’re seeing on the leadership side.

Olatunde: [01:03] Yeah. Yeah. Thank you for asking that, you know, when you look at leadership, some people think just because someone is a manager makes them a leader. I beg to differ on that. Every manager is not a leader. Some people are positional leader, you know, in where they were. They work hard and they, you, you know, grow within the organization. They have a high ranking position within the organization, but don’t have the, the, the knowledge or the influence to kind of draw people. You know what I’m saying, draw people towards them. A leader, draw people on manager force. People force them by threats, force them by benefits force them by different tactics. That’s what a manager does.

Dan Neumann: [01:53] Yeah. Implicit in the definition of a leader is you have to have some followers.

Olatunde: [02:00] Absolutely. Yeah. If you’re a leader, leading people and nobody’s following that leader is just taking a walk. Let me say that again. If you are a leader leading people and no one is following you, that leader is just taking a walk alone.

Dan Neumann: [02:23]
And there’s nothing wrong with a nice walk. Just don’t mistake. It there’s a, there’s a video that was making, I don’t know, making its way around the internet. At one point it was the was it the first follower or the third follower? It was a guy who was dancing on the hill, just carefree and abandoned. Eventually he, he kept doing it, doing it and doing it. And then somebody else was like, I’m going to go join the crazy guy. And then a third person. And then eventually there was a bit of a movement, but it took somebody leading well for a while, he was taking a walk kind of by himself, but attracted other people to what they were doing.

Olatunde: [03:03] I like that.

Dan Neumann: [03:04]
Don’t know what it has to do with agility, but I’m thinking you’re going to help me connect that.

Olatunde: [03:08] Absolutely. Well, you know, agility is nothing but a way of working. That’s what agile is. A better way of doing what you’ve always been doing. And sometimes leadership has to have, you know, I want to digress real quick. We always talk about agile, agile leadership. Agile team agile organization, but before you be, you know, it takes individuals to make up the organization. So there’s a concept. A framework out there that I’m working on is called personal agility. Personal agility is the ability to be the picture of what we are expecting the organization to be. So a good leader, not a good manager, a good leader is the picture of agility that the organization and the people should follow. Personal agility with leadership.

Dan Neumann: [04:05] And so what jumps out to me there is that leader modeling the behavior that they want, exhibiting the principles, exhibiting the values that they’re hoping to attract other people to.

Olatunde: [04:19] Yep, absolutely. You know, Dan when you look at John Maxwell, he’s by far one of my, my hero in life, one of my favorite author, there’s no book of John Maxwell that I don’t have. So I believe in in 1996, I read one of his book called the 21 indisputable laws of leadership. One of the quote that John Maxwell puts in that book was a leader is the one who knows the way a leader is the one who goes the way a leader is the one who shows the way. What does that mean? I’m gonna say that again, the leader knows the way has a vision. The leader goes the way has mission. Vision is what you, you know, the, the end result that you, you know, you, you, you envision to kind of create within yourself. The mission is the ability to take steps, the right steps to get to that vision. And the leader shows the way when you been there as a leader, you are able to guide the people. So get them to the way, what way, the way of organizational agility, meaning the organization will have more collaboration. The organization is an organization that have a culture of continuous learning. How can we get better as an organization to have influence in the markets over our competitor leadership drive that then without effective leadership, that organization will, will not try to thrive. Let me give you an example. Blockbuster had a lot of managers, but not too many leaders. They extinct. Now, let me give you another one. Enron. They had a lot of managers that did mismanagement. There was not enough leadership they’re all gone. The effective way that a leader will lead is to show vision, to understand the mission and lead the people within the organization, to the place of destination.

Dan Neumann: [06:40] I think what you described is super important. And when I think about a lot of agile transformations, sometimes it’s not the leader’s vision to go on the agile journey. It’s somebody below them. And that for me is where I see a lot of challenges in agile journeys where somebody’s not the leader, a leader maybe goes on the agile journey. And at some point it runs into the organizational DNA. That’s like, no, where we didn’t, we, the company didn’t sign up for this. You might’ve signed up for that. Your, your little group did, or your medium sized group might have, or even a big group might have, but we, the company, HR compliance, audit, recruiting, marketing support, the whole organization didn’t and I think that’s where a lot of agile journeys and agile leadership run into walls that they struggle with.

Olatunde: [07:38] Yup, absolutely. Middle managers, you know sometimes are the impediment within an organization. Let me give you an example, true life story. I, I was in a client engagement with a financial company in Jersey city and the coach, you know, I have the opportunity to work with multiple arts and, you know, HR having a coach

Dan Neumann: [08:07]
And art being agile release train.

Olatunde: [08:09] Thank you. Yes. our favorite thing. So the coach was struggling. The teams were struggling. So I saw as a enterprise coach, how can I show that coach better way of doing things? You know what I did, I allowed the coach to watch me do his job for the team level. I allow the coach and the Scrum Master to watch me do the job of a Scrum Master. So serve the team and then look at program managers and say, okay, this is how we do prioritization of EPICs. I was able to inspire them to learn in a different way and also to do what they do in a different way so that it would get a better result. Those are the traits of a good leader. A good leader sometimes have to actually be the one to do the work. And that sets the expectation. A good leader is someone that inspect what they expect, meaning that, you know, they have done the job. They expect everyone else to do to do the job in a better way. And then they inspect it for the benefits of the organization that we are serving.

Dan Neumann: [09:22] I was on a conference this morning and the concept of coaching came up. And then as part of that, the Shu Ha RI approach, which do, you know, kind of follow the rules and really having the ability to say, this is how you are to do the activity. This is how we’re going to do scrum. We don’t ask a team to invent how they want to do scrum coming out of the gates. They don’t know anything about scrum, but here’s how we put some things in place. And then eventually getting into the Ha and the Ri state where you take some liberties with the form potentially. But it makes me want like a leader a C-suite leader. Isn’t going to come down and answer phone calls on the help desk. They’re not going to come down and start writing C plus plus, or, you know, and they’re not gonna build a CI/CD pipeline or put together agile marketing things. And so they do have an accountability for a vision, but then they also need other people to carry out the vision much closer to that work.

Olatunde: [10:28] Absolutely, absolutely. No, no. I agree with you 100%. They need people to to carry out the vision that they, that they want. But then I believe it is the responsibility of that. The leader of the organization to help attract the talents that will fulfill the mission. It is the responsibility of an agile leadership to retain talents. So actually execute on the mission. It is also the responsibility of an agile leadership to actually develop talents, cultivate all of us, that all of us are nothing but plants. And along the way in our, in our life, we’ve had people that water we’ve had people that that prune, we had people that guide we’ve had people that helped develop to cultivate. So we yield better fruits. The effective way of a good agile leader is a leader that yield fruit. What kind of fruits? People, people are the by-product of a good, effective agile leader. However, if the people that the leader attract are not aligned to the vision of the leader, the organization will not thrive. So this is where that C plus leadership should not put project manager. I’m not saying that project managers are bad. People don’t are just driving them with a fearoic mindset. We been do it, do it without understanding the human factor.

Dan Neumann: [12:30] Yeah. Your metaphoric: Attract the right kind of people develop them, develop the ones who already have, but to build on your fruit metaphor, if you need apples, and you’ve got an orange tree that orange trees not going to give you apples, no matter how much fertilizer, pruning, sunshine, water, it’s just an orange tree. We need apples. Right. And there is a responsibility to help make sure the, the, the right people on the bus. That’s not John Maxwell. I don’t think that is good to great. The good to great book, right? Talking about getting the right people on the bus.

Olatunde: [13:13] Yes. I, I’m not familiar with a book, but I’m familiar with the quote.

Dan Neumann: [13:19] Yeah, for sure. So, so there is the responsibility to help attract, retain, develop. And in some cases, help people figure out this isn’t quite the right spot for you anymore. Maybe it was there. Maybe it’s not anymore. Doesn’t make them bad people. No, just means it’s not the right spot. And that’s okay.

Olatunde: [13:39]
Every, everybody doesn’t does it. Every talent within the organization is not meant to fit in the vision of the organization. Meaning, you know, that I have worked for some organization as a, as a, as a servant leader. That, I mean, this stunted my growth, I was working out of fear. I hated getting up in the morning to go to work. I was my good fit for that organization. That organization was not a good fit for me. And the moment I left the organization, I slept better. I think better. My creativity’s is there. So I want to speak to every leader. Not everyone is passionate about your vision. Not everyone can fulfill your mission. Not everyone can execute your expectation for the organization. And that’s okay. That’s okay. Yup.

Dan Neumann: [14:37] So let’s before it gets too dark on that, on the HR side of things. Right? But so if there is a vision and you have as a leader, nurtured people you’ve shared the vision. You’re trying to nurture them in order to bring them along. You need some trust. Like you said, the leader without followers is just on a walk. Well, if somebody is going to go across a bridge with you and I’ve seen those bridges, they’re like two strands of wire with a little tiny cable underneath them. Like I’m going to have to trust a leader before I get out on that. Very uncertain looking footing might be totally safe. Might be super secure. Nothing’s really going to happen, but it looks scary. And I like my feet on solid ground. So you’ve got to build that trust then as well.

Olatunde: [15:23]
Yeah. Trust is the bridge to get to the vision. Trust is the bridge that helped catapult us to the vision because you know, anyone can have a vision, but you need the people to actually help you execute the missions that leads to the vision. If the people don’t have trust, I’m telling you there will be chaos. So leaders that are emotional or don’t have devotion to help the people thrive will cause the organization, nothing but commotions. Let me say that again, leaders that are emotional, that are not fully devoted to the people they are serving will cause the organization nothing but commotion.

Dan Neumann: [16:15] I don’t know if we’ll release the video, but I’m smiling. I’m like, man, that’s, that’s good Tunde. I don’t know if that was in a fortune cookie, that’d be like a fortune cake right there. That’s bigger. But you know, I’ve, I’ve lived that. And you know, it was a project where everyone was scared to tell the big boss that we, this project wasn’t going to be on time budget or with scope. It was red, red, red, but then the next layer decided, well, it’s not really red. It’s sort of orangy yellowish. And the next layer turned it green. And till we missed the date and you try to explain to a C-suite guy, why the, all the dashboards are green until the date got missed. That’s not good for anybody. But it was that. I think that emotional danger there’s no danger. It was just fear. Everybody was scared. And there was no actual danger there. They were just scared because there wasn’t the trust to say, we heard you. We’re trying. There’s a lot of this setup. That’s not right. And it’s not going to hit the expectations that you had. So lots of commotion was created.

Olatunde: [17:32] Then let me, let me give you a major example of a good leader. There are different types of species of birds in the world. Some that we’ve seen and know, some, some that we have never sin and you know, scientists are still discovering them. So I want to pick one bird. I want to pick an Eagle. Do you know Dan that Eagle can see it’s prey over a mile away over one mile that’s vision. An eagle fly the highest when the storm rise, because the Eagle spread its wing and allowed the storm to elevate it beyond other birds. The plateau that Eagles fly on, you cannot see no other bird fly on that level. If you see them is nothing but an Eagle. Let me bring the point home. A leader, everyone is not supposed to understand what you see. Everyone can not fly on that level. You need to stay as a C-suite leader with your mission, your vision. To allow people so help you create a mission so that the organization can thrive. The, when the storm arises, just like an Eagle, the leader doesn’t panic, the people will panic. They will go into hiding. Some will quit. Some will take a break, some will do different things. We humans do. However that leader or those leader will allow the storm of the organization. So carry them. The storm doesn’t last. Always it will be over different people will come. That will help. That will be the foot soldiers to help you fulfill the vision. That is an agile leadership.

Dan Neumann: [19:45]
Oh man. Okay. I got pictures of Eagles soaring. Now I love, I love the visual, right? So, and they need to maintain, you know, a vision, send the challenge is, how to adjust, to changes in the environment to things. When the strategy said, this is the path we got partway down that plant path and what, Ooh, that strategy isn’t working, or here’s a, COVID a global pandemic, your strategy for being a restauranteur might’ve been brilliant until literally nobody can go in your restaurant. And how, how do you maintain the vision maybe that was around service and experience and tastes and all that with a different tactic or different strategy, because that just got all shot to hell.

Olatunde: [20:36] Yup. Yup. You know, sometimes having a lean and agile leadership, you know, and trying to create a culture of continuous learning will get fired as a leader. And that’s okay. That’s just a storm. That’s a storm. Some storms come to promote the leader because they do have a vision. Some storms come to kind of create chaos within the organization like COVID. And so that we can realign homemade, create chaos globally. And now we are working from home, but we are still productive, even more productive.

Dan Neumann: [21:14]
Yeah. I’m just thinking of that with all the global supply chain. Yeah. There’s a lot to unpack. We won’t, we won’t go into global supply chain. Cause I don’t think Tunde and Dan are going to fix it on the five minutes left on this podcast, but it is about responding to change and the things that were well-oiled machines in a steady state environment. Now the chaos has caused ripples that were not foreseeable. And so something where a lean approach, a six Sigma approach limited work and limited inventory driving out variants. Like no, all there is now is variance. And so what do we do and how can we still deliver? And so it’s a new strategy and we’ll take a while to find that. Yep. Let’s talk. There are three things. You said leaders focus on you didn’t say it in here, but you set up before setting direction, inspiring commitment and building some capacity. So maybe we can just as we get towards the back part here, let’s explore those things. So direction, commitment, and capacity building.

Olatunde: [22:19] Awesome. So I want to start from the bottom up. So the capacity building is every one of us daily. We are given a small number of urgs of energy. And if leaders don’t help us channel those energy for the benefits of the organization, it’s a, it’s a loss. Let me give you a good example. The founder of apple, what’s his name? Steve Jobs.

Dan Neumann: [22:59] Let’s go with Jobs. That’s the name was on my tongue.

Olatunde: [23:02]
Steve Jobs. So do you know that he had the vision all along? He proposed it to some organization and he got fired twice that we know of. Twice.

Dan Neumann: [23:17] And one of those times was from apple. He got fired.

Olatunde: [23:22]
His own vision fired him. Can you imagine that? Because the reason why is when you put a shark in an aquarium, it will only grow max eight feet now that’s a big aquarium, but when you take this same shark and put them in the ocean, it grows according to its capacity, the same thing happened. Understanding the capacity of individuals within the organization is the job of the leader. What is the next one?

Dan Neumann: [23:59]
Inspiring commitment, building capacity, and then inspiring commitment.

Olatunde: [24:04] You know, I was, I was born in Nigeria and we, we will talk to basically you know, so using hand with needles and everything. And so we were taught that, but if you make them, if you made a mistake and you use the wrong thread, there’s a certain way they ask us to draw it out with patient so that you will not mess up the garment. Because if you mess up the garment, you have to redo it all over again. A good leader, has to understand that concept to draw people, not pull people. So draw them by inspiring them to action. What kind of action? The action to help the organization thrive?

Dan Neumann: [24:52] I love it. And then of course we have to have some direction. We can’t just be, so we can’t end up with a shirt with 18 sleeves, you know, even if we get all the thread pulled, right, right. We’ve got to, we’ve got to have some direction that we’re, we’re heading towards.

Olatunde: [25:04] This is where sometimes managers have to kind of, this is leaders have to manage managed by setting the pace that’s in the direction. I remember when I was in college, there’s a gentleman by the name of Eugene Baker. We used to run we ran track and we ran 800 meters, which is basically half a mile. My goal was not to be the first because Eugene was faster than me, but I know if I can keep up with Eugene, I will come out in the top five because Eugene had long stride, long legs, and he kept the same pace. It was tiring for me, but I did it. The leader has to be able to do the same thing, set the pace, keep the pace, keep it steady, to deliver value with the people for the organization.

Dan Neumann: [26:03] That’s wonderful Tunde. You have given a lot to think about and some very interesting quotes. We’ll have to, we’ll have to pull some of those out and capture them for posterity. But I do appreciate you sharing on the thought of agile leadership. What would you like to leave us with as a closing thought on the topic?

Olatunde: [26:25] I want to encourage all leaders not to call people, resources, the people that serve you are not resources. They’re not some paper that you’d want to use. And after you use them, you throw them away. No people are people, and you cannot inspire a resource. You cannot inspire a paper. You can create papers, you know, but you can inspire people to help the performance of your organization, thrive. Lets, stop calling people resources and calling them what they are. The people that are doing the work. Knowledgeable workers.

Dan Neumann: [27:04] I love it. I think we’re going to win that one. I think we’re going to win. You just got to keep after it. I I don’t know how people receive it. I haven’t heard it had anybody get angry, but it’s like, yeah, no, like, can we stop calling them resources? They’re people, they might be talent. We call them talent, but no resource. It’s something you use up and it’s gone.

Olatunde: [27:26] Yep, absolutely.

Dan Neumann: [27:27] Yeah. Thank you very much Tunde. And I really appreciate it again at what might be untuned days, continuous learning journey these days.

Olatunde: [27:36] I am you know, like right now on this, a book I’m reading called agile marketing, and it is something that is changing my paradigm the way I think, and also working on a framework that allow people to not be face-to-face to still be able to deliver iterative, maybe every two, two and a half days to every week delivering into production. That’s what I’m working on.

Dan Neumann: [28:03] I love it. Yeah. And you know, the focus that gets created by trying to deliver frequently and actually delivering it’s phenomenal. So much more energy, so much better than well we’re working on it. We’re working on that. And 18 other things nothing’s moving, but we’re working on it very busy, very busy, right? So that’s totally different than actually delivering. So I look forward to hearing more about your agile marketing exploration and a framework for delivery in a future episode. Thank you Tunde.

Olatunde: [28:31] Thank you so much for having me.

Outro: [28:34] This has been the Agile Coaches’ Corner podcast brought to you by AgileThought. The views, opinions and information expressed in this podcast are solely those of the hosts and the guests, and do not necessarily represent those of AgileThought. Get the show notes and other helpful tips for this episode and other episodes at

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