One of the most important pieces of the Agile leadership puzzle is the forming of effective working relationships between you and your colleagues. Without durable relationships, the optimization of an organization simply can’t happen. To build these effective relationships, two properties must exist: confidence in the other party’s competence and mutual trust.
I first learned the importance of this lesson while doing personal development work under Dr. Stephen R. Covey. Although this was a long time ago, in a galaxy far away, the lesson I learned during that time still rings true in real life, time and time again.
Confidence & Competence: Confidence in Each Other’s Competency
Competence is the function of an individual’s knowledge, talent, and skill, and the ability to apply it. Although the possession of knowledge, talent, or skill may warrant academic merit, without the ability to apply it in real-life situations, it’s useless.
For example, throughout my career, I’ve had the good fortune of holding leadership positions ranging from front-line supervisor to C-suite executive. I have had members with Ph.D.’s on my various teams who could explain the law of gravity, recite the value of its force on Earth, and beyond. Yet, they couldn’t hit the floor with their hat if they had three tries.
Compare this with a single mother of two who discovered a way to push herself through college while still caring for her family. This is an individual who knows how to assess, adapt, improvise, and overcome, in real life. This type of personal leadership, the competence required to sense and respond, is the foundation of agility.
Trust: The Property That Holds the Relationship Together
Trust or trustworthiness is demonstrated through actions that conform to words, not only when others are watching, but especially when nobody is. Through trust, certain interpersonal practices such as communication become moot.
For example, if two colleagues share mutual trust and one of them misspeaks, the other will understand the meaning. Communication is easy, but trust is hard. It’s the property that holds the entire relationship together, working or otherwise.
Confidence in Each Others’ Competence and Trust Must Co-Exist for Effective Working Relationships
On their own, confidence in each other’s competence and trust won’t work when building an effective working relationship. Both properties must be present. For example, although an individual may be a programming wizard, if you can’t trust them, the relationship isn’t healthy. Conversely, if an individual is unconditionally trustworthy, but not very good at what they do, that doesn’t work either. One property without the other leads to unsuccessful relationships that lack in the agility required for true Agile leadership.
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