Does Agile Work with a Command and Control Leadership?
Although many authors have explored the topic of leadership styles in tons of books, articles, and blogs, this subject still attracts everyone’s attention. With the popularity of agile methods, especially Scrum, the discussions around collaborative, command and control leadership (C2) styles have increased greatly.
It is recommended that a ScrumMaster (SM) should act as a servant leader, serving the team without a command and control attitude. As such, the SM has no authority over the team to get the job done as well. In addition, agile methods recommend that teams are supposed to be self-organizing.
In an ideal scenario, an SM could continue to work independently of the team while the team self-organizes. However, many teams need a lot of coaching and guidance before they can self-organize. As Esther Derby notes, self-organizing teams need managers and leaders to guide them. It is a myth that the teams can self-organize without any external help.
In the absence of the role of a project manager in Scrum projects, the responsibility of leading the teams falls on the shoulders of the ScrumMaster. The ScrumMaster should be aware of situational leadership styles and apply the right mix of leadership methods, including C2, appropriately. The whole situation can get messed up when the ScrumMaster uses predominantly one particular style or applies the wrong style to a group.
Some people quote Steve Job’s autocratic style and the success behind Apple. Steve applied only one style of leadership—C2. Did the company become successful? Yes, and it made a lot of money. Were people happy working with Steve? No, not at all. Here is another article providing a good view of Steve’s style and what made his teams stick around.
Personally, I have observed a few things that tick people off when using C2—surveilling a team’s activities, filtering team members’ mail and other communications, and punishing people for making independent decisions.
Despite having rich evidence of the negative impacts of total C2-style leadership at a workplace, there are thousands of leaders who are being nurtured by the industry.
Here is an eye-opener and a no-brainer: A study by researchers at the University of Iowa, Perpetuating Abusive Supervision: Third Party Reactions to Abuse in the Workplace, found that third parties tend to accept the abuse if the supervisor is seen as productive and effective—and they don't feel like they're the next target.
From the study’s announcement: "When a supervisor's performance outcomes are high, abusive behavior tends to be overlooked by third parties when they evaluate a supervisor's effectiveness," the researchers wrote. "In contrast, abuse plays a predominant role when parties judge the personal appeal of the same high-performing abusive supervisor."