Servant Leadership and The Superperforming CEO

Today I was invited to go to a seminar and talk about a new book, “The Superperforming CEO”. The books author, Dave Guerra, found me through a local organization I help coordinate – Milwaukee Agile. When I spoke to Dave prior to the seminar, he mentioned that he was very interested to get more plugged into the Agile community as the concepts that Agile proposes are very similar to that of his book, and life’s study in management and leadership.

The seminar was very interesting and as the talk went on, I found that he was indeed singing out of the same hymnal that agilists are regarding leadership and management. Dave also explores the duality of problems and opportunities that business people encounter. Here are some of the critical takeaways I received from Dave’s talk (and book) that support agile tenets:

  • Super performing leaders share common traits that are pervasive – part of their fabric. They have transformed from managers to Servant Leaders. This models the approach used by scrummasters and agile managers (remove impediments and cultivate an environment to innovate and get the job done)
  • Great leaders understand that getting process well defined without a great culture leads to unsatisfied workers, stifled innovation and broad under performance. They also understand that having a great culture without process control leads to terrible mismanagement and woeful under performance. Similar to agile techniques, these systems need to exist in balance and are ever-evolving. (Manage your processes and Lead your people)
  • Dave spoke of a principle he calls “tacking” similar to that of sailing. Tacking too far in one direction can throw a system drastically off course. Minor, incremental (or evolutionary) shifts in direction yield the best results, and will serve to keep your ship upright as a side effect! Agile often manages this through short iterations, and constant feedback through retrospectives to make micro-changes to the process.
  • Superperformers are those that consistently perform over time. This is similar to the concept of sustainable pace and continuous improvement in the agile paradigm.
  • Superperformers tranform “flow” and consistently look for ways to optimize. Kanban and Lean help in this regard by managing flow of work into the system and eliminating waste.
  • The foundation for Superperformers is “passion”. The passionate CEO will liberate the the teams to become superperformers individually by giving them the tools, encouragements, and environment they need to thrive. This concept is similar to Scrum and self-directed, highly motivated teams.

Over all, Dave did a very good job of highlighting the key principles of the Superperformer and how to begin to achieve or unleash the super performers in our own organizations. The book seems to have some very good detail and touches on a much broader, more tangible set of principles and some steps to take to begin to explore this on your own. I will try and read the text this weekend and update the post. On a personal aside, one of the things that struck me about Dave personally was his authenticity and his willingness to “want to help”. I think he does see the value in the concepts of servant leadership, and is putting them to use in his own career as he tries to spread the word of his life’s study.

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