How To Be A Rebel Leader (and Why)

I was inspired by a shared tweet that included the following illustration:










These principles come from the work of Francesca Gino and her new book, Rebel Talent: Why It Pays To Break The Rules At Work And In Life.  I highly recommend Francesca’s book (and her first book, Sidetracked, too.)  Francesca has tapped into what’s keeping us from being our best selves personally (Sidetracked) and professionally (Rebel Leader.)

Is (or Was) Agile A Rebel Movement?

Reviewing The Agile Manifesto (especially the Twelve Principles) I believe the answer is Yes.  I say “Was” in the title of this section because I’m increasingly seeing (and learning about) more (and more) Agile initiatives being rolled out like product and program initiatives were rolled out prior to February 2001 (when The Agile Manifesto emerged from the meetings at Snowbird.  Recent examples include the rigid conformity around adopting The Spotify Model (mechanically, at best), forcing Business Analysts to become Scrum Masters or Product Owners with 2-days of training, and forcing Project Managers and Program Managers to become Scrum Masters or Release Train Engineers with equally brief preparation.  There wasn’t a major upheaval in product and program management when The Manifesto was released, but it did signal that enough is enough (my synopsis of the four values and twelve principles) and that the authors are practicing and advocating for significant changes (per the word, manifesto.)

Where Is Agile Failing (and Who Is Responsible?)

When I review the latest causes of Agile Adoption Consternation shared in the VersionOne State of Agile Report for 2018, I’m reminded that the issues and obstacles I experienced (and witnessed) early in my career remain with us four decades later.  These are the corresponding VersionOne Survey Results:

While VersionOne states that there is a year-over-year improvement in Organizational culture at odds with agile values for 2018, I’m stunned that more than 50% of respondents cited this obstacle.  When I review the top 5 challenges above, I conclude that effective leadership especially at senior levels remains detached if not disinterested in outcomes potentially available through their Agile Initiatives.  How else to explain these challenges (or impediments) with Culture, Organization, Management, Sponsorship, Skills, Training and Education?  Why are the rest of us allowing this to occur (and occur, …?)

Take Action

Agile is almost 2 decades old, and there are increasingly louder voices seeking (yet) another vision for how to organize people, teams and organizations to work effectively. We’ve allowed Agile to fall prey to the orthodox command and control methods that precipitated The Manifesto’s emergence and adoption.  We’ve also allowed Leadership to skate by without investing sufficiently in their own improvement and learning in support of Agile initiatives.  While there is an effort to deliver Agile Leadership Coaching Services by independent coaches and professional services firms, I question the impact of these services.  My impression is that leaders subscribe to sufficient coaching and training to check the box and then return to their usual areas of responsibility believing Agile (remains) an IT thing.  Here are some suggestions and recommendations:

Embrace Your Inner Rebel

Rebel Leadership complements Robert Greenleaf’s servant-leadership values and principles.  There’s no argument that servant-leadership is an effective way to operate as an individual contributor as well as a leader.  Organize a brown-bag lunch for your leadership peers and their direct reports and explain how embracing servant-leadership (in addition to the Eight Principles of Rebel Leadership) will increasingly align corporate, organizational, program and personal values, principles and practices: Here’s a very effective guide from Trammell McGee-Cooper and Associates (and start with the list on Page 5 to prepare your presentation.)  Offer your brown-bag lunch monthly to a wider audience and you’ll have a demonstrable impact.

Resist Conformity

If you’re in a leadership position, you likely reached this level of responsibility (at least partially) through the actions of one or more other leaders who recognized your abilities, skills and potential and made this role available to you.  Are you emulating them, or are you your own form of leader?  Do you know the difference?  Here’s one view of leadership from Esko Hannula and his book Three Skills of Advantage The Skill of Quality, The Skill of Agility, The Skill of Decision: It is extraordinary how little leaders practice the theory, technique and creative adaptation of their skills.  Every professional musician has a more impressive record of rehearsing their performances than the average leader has of practicing leadership.  Heed Esko’s advice and resist the conformity that often comes with settling into a leadership role and repeating the usual leadership rituals and behaviors.

Be Humble

Yes, I said “Be humble.”  Effective leaders practice humility and achieve extraordinary results.  Berwyn Hayes and Michael Comer have shared an experience-informed guide to effective leadership humility in their book Start With Humility: Lessons From America’s Quiet CEOs On How to Build Trust and Inspire Followers.  An early chapter, Finding Your Authentic Core, should be required reading for everyone seeking to improve their effectiveness regardless of their role or profession.  Hayes and Comer present several tools and techniques for assessing and improving one’s humility.  They also present real-life CEO examples where practicing humility has led to organizational achievements that surpassed everyone’s expectations.

Are Your A Rebel?  Let’s Find Out!

Francesca Gino has made an anonymous self-evaluation tool available.  I strongly encourage you to complete it and digest your results: Take the Rebel Assessment


Results are for your eyes (and use), only.  I have no connection to the test or the corresponding data.  I took it too!

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Accent on Literacy

This school year, I’ve been fortunate to be involved with Innovations for Learning to support literacy in the Boston Public School System.  I’m a literacy tutor for a first grade student in the Joseph Tynan School in South Boston.  My student’s name is Xavier W., and we work together weekly for 30-minutes through TutorMate.  We had a meet-and-greet in the Fall after working together for several weeks  We met in Ms. Moore’s First Grade Classroom.  We have an end-of-year event planned for May, too.

TutorMate provides a variety of literacy aids rated for students including Visual Stories, Tic Tac Toe, Word Sort, Flashcard, Mystery Word and Whiteboard.  Each aid is filtered by a student’s proficiency: Proficiency is set by the tutor with feedback from the classroom teacher.  We tutors supplement the classroom teacher.

Xavier and I get to chat about what’s been going on between our tutoring sessions, and we’ve developed a healthy rapport, too.  What we read and work with each week is up to Xavier, and I always check in to confirm that what we’re doing is run, too.

Innovations for Learning is setting up tutors in cities around the country.  I encourage you to get involved.  How often to we get immediate feedback (and gratification) for our actions to facilitate learning and personal growth?

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13th Annual IEEE and ACM IT Professional Conference at the Trenton Computer Festival

In March, I presented at the 13th Annual IEEE and ACM IT Professional Conference at the Trenton Computer Festival on the campus of The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) in Ewing, New Jersey.  My topic was Accelerate Your Technical and Cultural Transformation with Visual Planning.  My 55-minute presentation was well attended, and I was able to attend several very interesting presentations immediately afterwards, too.

Why This Conference

I like the idea of practitioner conferences.  The review process for submittals emphasized that our presentations had to be capable of transferring skills or, at a minimum, informing participants as to how to adopt practical skills, technologies, methodologies or some combination.  (I was able to share a combination.)  The review committee was composed of CIOs and CTOs.


Day One is the IEEE and ACM IT Professional Conference.  Day Two is the Trenton Computer Festival: A vendor hall loaded with everything from resistors, robotics and more, a keynote speaker, and a series of practical workshops delivered throughout the day.  I attended back-to-back WordPress workshops that were very informative.

Accelerate Your Technical and Cultural Transformation with Visual Planning

My presentation included three visual planning methods:

  1. Metaphor Maps
  2. Strategy Maps
  3. Mind Maps

I included working examples of each map type and the conditions under which one form of mapping is preferable (or a prerequisite) to another form.  I also included ample references for participants to pursue these techniques on their own.  Putting my presentation together reminded me of how visual planning was able to close gaps between groups and better manage expectations, too.

You can download a PDF of my presentation from here.  This is a standalone mind map of the resources I recommended.  While I was waiting for the TCF to open I came upon a display table for The Sarnoff Collection.

The Sarnoff Collection

I knew the name David Sarnoff, but I had no idea that TCNJ hosted his collection including a detailed explanations of his interests and works.  Collection Curator Florencia Pierri is shown here explaining audio technology pioneered by Sarnoff and his associates.  Florence led a group of 25 of us through the collection for a fun and fact-filled hour.

Admission to The Sarnoff Collection is free.  It’s well worth visiting.  One of the many exceptional attributes of this collection is that it features several hands-on exhibits in addition to materials and exhibits for children.




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Northeastern University News Article


I was very flattered when Andy McCarty, Director of the Dolce Center for the Advancement of Veterans and Servicemembers (CAVS) at Northeastern University (N.U.) connected me with Bill Ibelle, a writer at the N.U. News.  Bill was interested in sharing the work Andy facilitates and leads through CAVS with a broader audience.  Bill interviewed two recent participants in my Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) for Teams 2-day workshops: Morgan Stanley and Austen Venick, in addition to myself.  (I went through my first professional photo shoot, too!)  I deliver these workshops pro bono and with all the bells and whistles a commercial client would experience.

You can read the full article here. This is especially gratifying for me as I’m an N.U. graduate.


The feedback I receive from participants in these workshops is very encouraging (and confirms my original theory that military training and experience prepares one to be a very effective Agile team member.)  In addition to delivering these workshops for CAVS, I deliver them for Code Platoon in Chicago, too.  Code Platoon is a 6+ day/week in the lab coding bootcamp for veterans.  Rod Levy is the Executive Director at Code Platoon.  Rod and Jon Young, the Code Platoon Lead Instructor, have successfully gained academic credit for the Code Platoon program and recently completed qualifying Code Platoon participants for G.I. Bill benefits.  They’re very gracious hosts, too.

Agile Values

In Agile, we often share and discuss values including these:

  • Trust
  • Commitment
  • Servant-leadership
  • Transparency
  • Accountability

I have found these values in all of my work with Andy, Rod and Jon in addition to the more than three dozen participants in our SAFe workshops.  I’m looking forward to continued collaboration and expediting the professional development and career growth of their constituents.


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Military Training and Experience Enhance Your Agility


For the past two years, I’ve been delivering pro bono Agile workshops for active and former servicemembers.

My theory was that if you’ve succeeded in the military with Transparency, Collaboration, Communication, Teamwork, Goal Setting, Discipline, etc. you are an ideal candidate for an Agile Team where we emphasize transparency, collaboration, communication, teamwork, goal setting, discipline, etc.

I wanted to see if this theory would work in practice, and I was fortunate that some supportive people allowed me to “work it out”.

Theory Validated

I took my hypothesis to the Dolce Center for the Advancement of Veterans and Servicemembers (CAVS) at Northeastern University and was given a 3-minute window to pitch my idea to a room full of active and former servicemembers at a CAVS networking event.

There was sufficient interest that night, and more than a dozen people signed for one of two 2-hour Intro to Agile Workshops I delivered the following month.  These workshops were well received, and I continued working with Andy McCarty, CAVS Director, to share suggestions for more comprehensive training workshops.  Andy has embraced the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) for Teams 2-day Workshop as a value-add for his constituents.  I’ve delivered two SAFe for Teams workshops in the past 4 months for CAVS.  The response has been overwhelmingly positive especially for veterans already working in the software industry.

This is a hands-on interactive workshop.  You can see from the following CAVS pictures that everyone self-organizes into effective teams.

Early in the workshop teams decide how to best process a queue of work (tennis balls in this case) based on Flow.  Servicemembers have outperformed commercial teams by several orders of magnitude in this exercise.





Hands-on planning exercises are part of the curriculum, too.

Each team designs and build their own Kanban Board and processes their backlog through it based on their own Work in Progress (WIP) limits.






Through a fortuitous conversation with Conrad Holloman, Co-Founder of Operation Code, I was introduced to Code Platoon in Chicago.  Code Platoon is an intensive, 14-week cohort-centric immersion in software development practices requiring 6+ days a week in the lab/classroom.
One of the many distinguishing features of Code Platoon is their internship phase where a matriculating Code Platoon student is engaged by a Code Platoon sponsor for 3 to 6 months.  There’s ample opportunity for sponsors to meet students during the 14-week period, too.  The acceptance criteria for Code Platoon are rigorous, and they have an exceptional success rate post matriculation.   I pitched including the SAFe for Teams workshop as part of the Code Platoon program to Rod Levy, Code Platoon CEO.  Rod was supportive, and I’ve delivered three SAFe for Teams workshops in the past 5 months for Code Platoon.  The response here has also been overwhelmingly positive.  We even get to smile and laugh, occasionally!

The Code Platoon classroom/lab is ideal for collaboration.

Positive Reinforcement

One reason I approached CAVS is that I’m a Northeastern University graduate.  I wanted to see if I could do more than make the occasional gift or buy a sweatshirt in the Book Store.  Northeastern News approached Andy McCarty about writing a story about CAVS, and Andy suggested that my workshops be the focus of the article.  Select Northeastern University below to read this article and to hear from two recent workshop participants, too.

What I Learned

  1. Military training and experience do prepare you for Agility and participation on an Agile Team.  My experience coaching, training and mentoring professionals without military training and experience has shown me that coming from the military and participating in SAFe training will help accelerate your career and preclude you from experiencing (and manifesting) the cultural impediments many Agile Team members experience.
  2. We in the commercial space can learn much from our military colleagues especially when it comes to a lack of fear of the unknown and committing transparently to self-organizing teams.  There’s no sign of “Me” or “I” amongst the military professionals I have met and worked with in these workshops (and in my workplace experience over the past four decades, too.)
  3. You don’t have to have years of technical experience to be an effective Agile Team member.  There’s a workplace myth that the senior technical and product staff can easily transition to being an effective Agile Team member.  My experience outside of these workshops has proven that a falsehood, and my work within these workshops further debunks that myth.  It’s attitude and aptitude plus an opportunity to participate. These are the key factors regardless of years of technical and product experience.
  4. These workshops are fun! I’m regularly asked probing questions and encouraged to rethink how I’m facilitating this experience both during the 2-days and in the Scaled Agile anonymous student feedback data I receive.

Your thoughts and feedback are always welcome through the Comments feature or via contacting me directly.



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Robert K. Greenleaf: A Life of Servant Leadership


Don Frick’s biography of Robert Greenleaf is an exemplary journey through Greenleaf’s life and work.  If you want to know how the expression servant-leadership evolved, from whom, when and why, this is the book for you.  Don does a masterful job relating Greenleaf’s life story in great detail including many (if not all) of Greenleaf’s primary influencers.

I can no longer imagine anyone working in Agile, Lean or Leadership in general while using servant-leadership as a foundation of her or his practice without having read Don’s book.


Title: Robert K. Greenleaf: A Life of Servant Leadership (2004)
Don M. Frick, Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
ISBN: 1-57675-276-3
Pages: 432

Wading In

Peter Senge contributed the Forward, and Don Frick included a Preface.  Each voice contributed their own perspectives on Greenleaf, his impact on their lives, and servant -leadership as a practice and lifelong commitment.  These sentences stood out:

  • Being genuinely committed means knowingly taking action that shifts the locus of my attention towards what I seek to create, and away from myself and what my creating will bring me. (Senge)
  • One must learn how to stop the flow of thought and then, when needed, think. (Greenleaf)
  • Develop the capacity to see what we have not seen before. (Senge)
  • Live life in a slightly unconventional way, choosing to respond to one’s inherent personal genius and mastery. (Frick)
  • There is no master plan for living as a servant leader. (Frick)

Already, before I reached Chapter 1, I was stunned at how introspective Senge and Frick were and their clear acknowledgment of the impact of Greenleaf’s life and work on their own.   I knew I was in for some engrossing reading, and I wasn’t mistaken.

Greenleaf In Detail

Don Frick takes the reader through the major and minor influences on Greenleaf’s life and work starting with his parents, George and Burchie, and their life in Terra Haute, Indiana. All three are lifelong influences on Greenleaf and are explored in rich and engaging detail. Throughout the book, we’re reminded of how Greenleaf’s early life influenced his decision-making and choices.  Included in these early influences is the Methodist religion.  A telling observation: The Methodists shared a ‘genius for a methodical approach to religion.’  Greenleaf explored many religions and belief systems in his lifetime.  Carlton College was another early and lifelong influence and reflection point for Greenleaf.

Greenleaf’s tenure at AT&T (and Bell Labs, in particular) formed the nucleus of his lifelong work, thought, writing and speaking on a variety of interrelated topics for the remainder of his life.  This period included many outside-the-workplace experiences, friendships and acquaintances that added to what Greenleaf eventually identified and defined as servant-leadership.  This was Greenleaf’s formative period (for what we’ve come to associate with him.)  Greenleaf became aware that AT&T was not operated according to conventional corporate norms: The President of AT&T, Theodore N. Vail, was outspoken about profit not being his #1 priority nor that of the modern enterprise and that profit was only one of a myriad of success factors.  Vail also said that management should be honest, and he established a meritocracy system for promotion.  These were both very unconventional for the times and help awaken in Greenleaf additional aspirations for a different form of leadership.  Greenleaf’s time at AT&T showed him that institutions could be servants to their employees versus the opposite view (which was very common and widely held at that time.)

Greenleaf’s Four Tenets

  1. Servanthood: Make things better in your corner of the world (Primary Influence: George, his father)
  2. The importance of seeing things whole (Primary Influence: E.B. White)
  3. It is possible to nurture spirit even in corporations (Primary Influences: AT&T, Nicholaj Grundtvig)
  4. Deep learning should be practical and experiential, a life long adventure (Many Influences)

Greenleaf’s Approach to Training

Greenleaf developed and delivered training and workshops throughout AT&T from the linemen levels through senior leadership.  He developed a unique style that proved to be very engaging both for the audience and for Greenleaf’s ongoing development, too

  • Start with the learner’s own experience
  • Model what you’re attempting to communicate and impart
  • Combine content, experiential learning and reflection
  • Relate material, discussion and each lesson to current conditions
  • Refused to indicate that (Greenleaf) had the final answer

For some, especially those accustomed to defaulting to the instructor having the final answer (and knowing all the answers), Greenleaf’s style could be frustrating.  The majority of participants (and Greenleaf taught prolifically) were very empowered by this form of teaching.


Greenleaf adopted the work entheos to reflect the form of strength be believed livelong leaders (and learners) needed to manifest:

    • Emerges not as the result of calculations
    • An essence, the power from an inspired person
    • The result of selection, the right aim
    • Accept responsibility
    • Hold fast to the inner person
    • Find personal significance outside of the complications of property and achievement
    • Engage in the process of growth

Greenleaf continued to weave his beliefs and theories into his training, workshops and talks (outside of AT&T) and continued to find wide acceptance.

Post-AT&T Era

Greenleaf retired from AT&T and committed to avoiding being on anyone else’s payroll ever again.  In 1964, he established the Center for Applied Ethics (Boston, Massachusetts) as a vehicle for his writing and speaking.  During this period, Greenleaf developed a form of a test for an effective (and true) servant-leader.

Best Test for A Servant Leader

    • Some things that were deemed impossible to measure were in fact measurable
    • Do those led people grow as persons?
    • Do those led become healthier, wiser, freer, and more autonomous?
    • Whom are those led benefiting?

Greenleaf also concluded that no one should be powerless in an organization.  Greenleaf firmly believed that each person could create the vision for servant-leadership in their own space.

Greenleaf starting publishing prolifically through the Center and distributing his publications widely.  The more widely be shared his works, the more influence he developed and the more invitations he received to speak and to teach.  This is a partial list of those publications I can recommend:

I highly recommend reading Don Frick’s biography of Greenleaf before tackling Greenleaf’s own publications.  The story-behind-the-story (so to speak) is very helpful when reading Greenleaf’s own words and attempting to mature your servant-leadership stance.


This is one of the most compelling and stirring professional books I have read.  My highlighting, note taking and re-reading of paragraphs and sections attests to its impact on me.  I highly recommend this book for those of us engaged in working with individuals, teams and organizations to support their continued growth and experience in life.

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Volunteer Scorecard

Experiments Welcome Here

A good friend and colleague (Paul Hutchinson) recently introduced me to an informal group of business leaders, practitioners, concerned citizens and activists who meet monthly to discuss areas of interest and to share personal and professional development opportunities: The Concord Mafia.  We ran into the group’s facilitator (Kim Novick) at a local restaurant and learned he was looking for a November speaker.  I signed up to be the featured speaker in November.  The Mafia is a sounding board atmosphere where participants can experiment or propose in safety and receive well informed feedback.  Plus, there’s excellent food and coffee!  Kim makes all this happen, and everyone is deeply appreciative.

Why a Scorecard?

This year I’m participating in more volunteer activities than I have in the previous 5 years combined.  Most of these activities are outside of Lean, Agile and my usual professional work.  I wanted to see if I could develop an informal but useful set of metrics to evaluate how valuable each volunteer experience is for myself, for event organizers and for other volunteers, too.  I designed a scorecard and prepared to speak to it at the November meeting.

Scorecard Design

The first activity I engaged in was writing an initial set of directions.  (If you’ve been to more than a few volunteer events, you’ve probably had the same experience I’ve had on occasion: Insufficient guidance to make the best use of time, resources and expertise.)  Here’s the final set of instructions and the Assessment Key corresponding to the Criteria that appear below:

I adopted a set of commonly used criteria many of us use to assess organizational, program and team culture.  I’m increasingly finding these criteria have use outside of Lean and Agile.  Here’s the metrics section of the scorecard:

Now that I had the measurement criteria in place and a basic value set (aka Key values) I was ready to assign descriptions to a range of scores.  I agonized a bit over this: Everyone’s expectations and experience of a volunteer experience isn’t the same, and I wanted to be charitable to organizers, too.  I’ve been on the organizer team for several events, and I know it’s challenging to provide a positive experience for everyone (participants, organizers, vendors, spectators and media too.)  Here’s where I came out on overall ratings across a range of values:


Paul and I reviewed the scorecard with a group of approximately 30 professionals (over that excellent food and coffee I mentioned earlier!), and we received positive feedback and some pointers for refinement, too.  Overall, I’m glad we decided to preview this form, and I’ve adopted it for several volunteer opportunities I’m planning in 2018.

You can download a copy for your own use, here.  Here’s the complete scorecard:


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