Discovering the Soul of Agile: An Interview with Selena Delesie

[interview]
Summary:

In this interview, Selena Delesie, an international leadership and transformation coach and trainer, explains how your team can find the soul of agile, why some agile teams lack creativity, and who on your team should become a leader.

Josiah Renaudin: Welcome back to another TechWell interview. Today I'm joined by Selena Delesie, an international speaker, coach, and trainer, as well as a keynote speaker at Agile Testing Days in Boston.

Selena, thanks so much for joining us today.

Selena Delesie: You're welcome. I'm happy to speak with you again.

Josiah Renaudin: Yeah, absolutely, happy to do a second interview. And for those who didn't hear the first interview, could you tell us just a bit about your experience in the industry?

Selena Delesie: Yeah, my industry experience started way back after university, and I went straight into software testing instead of computer programming, which is one of the things I went to school for. And I quickly grew into leadership roles within the first year, leading teams and managing projects and programs, in one company helping to really set a guiding direction for how maybe a company's process is gonna run. So from there, after I'd say seven years in the industry, I started my own business, consulting and coaching for software teams often and management teams, to help them to function a lot better, to find higher performance, more success, and, my personal joy, helping people to flourish and thrive and feel happier.

Josiah Renaudin: You make a really strong statement in the abstract for your keynote that we spend too much time focused on doing better. When you're coaching teams or trying to help different organizations, is that a message that management cringes at? Is it difficult for you to break them of that "bigger and better" mindset?

Selena Delesie: It depends on the individual as to how much I need to work with them to break that, but invariably when I was doing active consulting work with organizations, I was brought in to "fix the team" usually is the phrasing that was often heard, and they would change that into higher performance, more success. "We need to do better, we have commitments to meet," and I totally get it. And the challenge that I see in organizations is that focus doesn't help to shift the behaviors, and it's behaviors in how people are able to show up that really makes a big difference. And that's really what agile was founded upon, was it gave some guiderails or training wheels, as I like to call them, to help people to find new ways to work together to shift behaviors, to touch on the behaviors that the initial founding members of the agile movement were operating under.

So, it's bringing people back to that core message and the core way of operating and helping them to understand how the behavior shifts allow for a "being-ness," and that is where all of the benefits of what they wanted are going to come from.

Josiah Renaudin: And I think some people just don't really realize the difference between doing better and being better, and that's something you do talk a lot about. So for you, is the concept of doing better being more situational, where you're trying to overcome a certain situation, while being better is a mindset when it comes to agile that'll help you from project to project?

Selena Delesie: Yeah, so, mindset shift is a huge step forward, and from there, for me, it really touches on the basic nature of how I choose to feel and be as I show up. And that touches a lot deeper than mindsets, but it's a really phenomenal thing to witness, if you're able to see how people are able to show up differently to relate with themselves in a deeper, more meaningful way, to relate with other people in that way, and to see the performance and success benefits that come out of that. That's like the cherry on top, from where I'm sitting.

But the management team, the teams themselves, they feel so much more successful, they feel engaged, they feel part of the solution, and they really start to love what they do, they're more inspired, more creative, but there's another side benefit to that. Invariably, the people that I'm working with, most of them see phenomenal benefits to how they are showing up in their lives. So, it impacts and benefits them personally at home and outside of the workplace, too.

Josiah Renaudin: When you do talk about people stepping up and leading through example, is that shift coming from the top down or the bottom up? Do you think leaders should actually often be the testers who know what's going on in a team, rather than the management?

Selena Delesie: I talk about empowering everybody to be a leader, so every person on the team and every manager, every executive, everybody interfacing with the team. It really comes down to personal leadership in choosing to show up in your best way, to be authentic, to be real, to be able to connect with other people, to be open to possibility and to share our inspiration and our creativity for our problem-solving together, and the only person who can make that happen is each individual.

So, for example, in teams that are really struggling, often what I find is that the people on the team feel unempowered. They don't feel like they have any authority to make any changes, and there's a part of that where the leadership team, there's shifts within them as leaders let go of control to create a culture that allows people to thrive to do their work in, but also the people on the team. And this is a message I give to a lot of people, is, if you want to have more authority or to feel more empowered, then you have to work through why you're choosing not to show up that way and how to help yourself to step into showing up that way. So, it comes from every direction, this leadership principle and the more successful organizations, the ones who are really thriving and blowing their competition away, everybody is showing up in this manner, with personal leadership and mutual respect for everybody there.

Josiah Renaudin: A lot of what you talk about sounds like these core principles of agile that maybe people have kind of forgotten over time since they actually first introduced agile to their teams. So can you give your own definition for what you see as “the soul of agile”?

Selena Delesie: Yeah, what is your guiding light? I do some work outside of the agile space, and we touch on soul and spirit and stuff, and the notion of that is like, picture a lighthouse on the coastline, and in the dark there's this light that's turning and revolving, and this lighthouse is guiding people in a particular direction to safety. And in an organization, we need that guiding light. What is this guiding force pulling us forward? It's partly values, it's partly mission, but it's bigger than that. It's really, what is at the core of how we want to be together? How do we want to be, and how do we show up with our customers and our clients and with other people in the organization? 'Cause that really defines how successful we're gonna be, quite frankly, and when organizations are lacking that, they're really focused on the doing and the outcomes and the results, but they're not sitting with, what is our guiding light and how we want to be in that light together to pull us forward.

Josiah Renaudin: And I'm not trying to have you call anyone out or anything like that, but do you think most modern agile teams lack creativity and innovation? Do you see maybe over time they've kind of grown a little stale in what they're doing? And if you do believe that, why has that happened?

Selena Delesie: Well, I'm not in every organization, so that's a really hard question to answer. I would say that there are some agile teams now who are really great at innovation and are really creative, they're really performing in very unique ways and bringing unique solutions to problems, and the teams who are doing that are really in the being space and behavior space, a personal leadership space. They have all of those characteristics and attributes across most if not all individuals, as well as the teams and the leadership folks.

A lot of agile teams, though, really struggle with that, and this all goes back to that guiding light, it goes back to how we're choosing to be and if we're able to be authentic and real or if we're afraid. When we show up in that authentic, real space and open to possibilities, we're uniquely, innately creative and innovative. And a lot of teams are still struggling and a lot of companies are still struggling, because fear is the predominant control mechanism, and it's really hard to be creative and innovative if you're afraid to offer your ideas forth.

Josiah Renaudin: And I'm sure you'll be giving a bunch of tips for everyone who does attend your keynote, but what one practical tip can you share right now that will help people bring more soul to their agile teams?

Selena Delesie: Well, one thing, if you're an individual on the team, is to ask your product or project manager, whatever their title is, or even one of your sponsoring executives, is, what is it really that we're trying to accomplish here? What is the end goal? What is the problem that we're trying to solve? And getting really clear on that. And don't take the first answer. Beat it down and go down to, what is the core? Because the core of any business and any product or service that we're offering is to try to solve the problem, and I know that this gets kind of pounded into people.

But once you have that, ask the next question: How do we wanna show up together to achieve that? And sit with yourself and ask that question, how do I want to show up today to help to achieve this mission that we've signed on to together, that I am overjoyed to work on? And if you're not overjoyed to work on what you're working on, maybe it's time to find a quiet space and just sit with yourself and sit with the ideas that come pouring through you around what you would be overjoyed to work on. Because the truth is, if you don't have passion for what it is that you're doing, you're not going to really be successful in the end, right?

So, sitting with yourself to hear what is true for you and inviting others to a conversation around that and your workplace goes a really long way, and in my experiences in coaching teams, it's this level of introspection that really leads to really profound shifts in the organization, if people are willing to go there.

Josiah Renaudin: All right, perfect. I don't wanna give away the entirety of your keynote, but more than anything, what central message do you want to leave with your keynote audience? What do you really want them to walk away with?

Selena Delesie: I think there are a couple of messages. One is really get clear on what propels you forwards every moment of the day, and form that together with the rest of your team so that you have that core guiding light or core value that really touches your heart. And I know that sounds a little fluffy for people, but it matters. People who show up with their hearts are achieving phenomenal things and they love what they do, and that is what leads to performance and success.

The second thing is that you have the ability to transform your daily experience and your work contributions. You don't need to wait for permission. The power is completely within you.

Josiah Renaudin: All right, thanks so much, Selena, I really appreciate you taking the time again to talk with us. Thanks for all the insight about your keynote, and I'm looking forward to hearing the full thing in Boston.

Selena Delesie: Yeah, thank you so much, it was lovely to do this with you.

Selena DelesieSelena is an international leadership and transformation coach, keynote speaker, and trainer. She is a trusted guide for technology leaders who seek to improve quality, value, and speed of delivery. Selena is the founder of Lead With Love Global and offers a variety of transformational leadership programs including a virtual leadership conference, her signature 2-month Ignite Leadership mastermind, and virtual communities. Her clients rave about her ability to help leaders break free from traditional business practices to engage the strengths and passions of their team and produce a highly creative, productive and vibrant workforce. Learn more at www.SelenaDelesie.com.

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