New type of leadership

Over the years I have read plenty of books describing new ways of working. They are about a new, sometimes counter intuitive, paradigm. Some call it agile, some call it common sense (it seldom is) and some call it teal. There are many names, labels and methods but I have found one thing to be in common: working in this new way requires a new type of leadership. It requires managers to step out of their old paradigm of controlling and distributing work and start leading, growing and empowering people. It requires new ways of thinking and new tools.

Out with the old

We currently operate in an ever changing world. The technology we use changes at a fast pace. The organisations and societies transform at a higher rate than ever. It has never been easier to launch new innovations on a global market. The old management paradigm of command and control fails because it builds on a few underlying assumptions:

  • Knowledge is centralized at the top — managers know best, and everything
  • People need to be controlled and told what to do — otherwise they will not create anything valuable
  • The world is predictable and hence we can follow a set of steps (process) to reach an expected result and we can create long term plans
  • Spending more hours on something makes it better

The ever changing world that we work in, where we solve problems at a fast pace requires a new paradigm with new assumptions:

  • Knowledge is greatest at the edges, with the people that work closely with the problem
  • People are grown up professionals and will work towards a common goal. Managers need to trust these professionals because they will come up with solutions that the manager never imagined.
  • The world and the problems we solve are complex. Only way to navigate in this domain is to keep learning, make small experiments and iterate.
  • The output (number of hours, lines of code) does not matter. The outcome (change in behavior, value to customers) is what we value.

To be successful in this new world, management needs to go through profound changes. First, we need leadership rather than management. We transform our thinking to stay in the competition. We need people to be at their best, and there is only potential for that under the new paradigm. People that have experienced this modern type of leadership will never want to go back to the old ways of working. Coming into a large, traditional command and control organization I encounter these symptoms first hand. I will admit that I don’t know much about management, but I pride myself in knowing a lot about leadership.

Responsibilities of a leader

So what should a leader do under this new paradigm? What should we expect? Here are a few things I see as key to be able to run a modern organisation:

  • Grow people. Help people grow, learn new things and take on more responsibility.
  • Model behavior. Culture stems from how leaders talk and act.
  • Communicate clear direction and clear purpose. Help people realize how they are contributing to changing the world.
  • Give people problems to solve (not jobs to perform).

Some leaders will go through a lot to protect their teams (from conflicts, internal politics and other unpleasant things). I have observed a leadership group making this their biggest task. They ended up spending a lot of time away from their own organisation, creating reports, filling out templates and participating in meetings. Their organisation lacked leadership while the managers were busy shielding the organisation from the outside world. We agreed that a better approach would be to expose the organisation, and help them to deal with the problems they will inevitably encounter. The role of a leader is to help the organisation solve all problems they encounter on their own.

Leaders should focus on creating an environment for people to thrive, rather than trying to lead individuals. At Kaospilot they say “Lead the space, not the particles”.

The need for coaches

Full disclosure — I work as an agile coach, and I am making a case for the job I do.

In this new leadership paradigm there is a need for an outside perspective, support and sparring. There is a need for people that are not accountable to the manager to share observations, facilitate learning and inspire. This outside perspective is needed to help people find a better path. The coach should not be part of the team, even if they work closely together. This is important to ensure that the leaders and teams do not become dependent on the coach. Instead they have to make their own decisions and learn from their own mistakes. A coach can help facilitate the changes, increase the speed of learning and help widen the horizon, but the goal should be to give the organisation enough help to stand on their own legs.

Another part of this new paradigm is that no leader is alone. We work in teams and that means we need to support each other, trust each other and be vulnerable with each other. When embarking on the journey team up, and bring a coach in to help the management team with reflections and sparring. There is a new and wonderful world out there for us to explore. There is a promise of great achievements but also hard work. Let us journey together to learn and create better outcomes for our customers as well as for ourselves.


The inspiration for this post comes from some of the great books I have read (and countless blogposts, discussions and conference talks).

Here is a list of some of the best books (in no specific order):

Multipliers — How the best leaders makes everyone smarter by Liz Wiseman

Turn the ship around — A true story of turning followers into leaders by David Marquet

The five dysfunctions of a team — A leadership fable by Patrick Lencioni

The connected company by Dave Gray

The age of agile — How smart companies are transforming the way work gets done by Stephen Denning

Modern agile (ok, this is not a book, but still valuable)

Managing for happiness — Games, tools and practices to motivate any team by Jurgen Appelo

Reinventing organisation by Frederic Laloux

Joy Inc — How we built a workplace people love by Richard Sheridan




Systems thinker and agile coach turned manager. Learn by sharing and discussing. Passionate about knowledge sharing.

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Jakob Wolman

Jakob Wolman

Systems thinker and agile coach turned manager. Learn by sharing and discussing. Passionate about knowledge sharing.

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