Managing “Leaderful” Groups

In agile development circles self-organizing teams are all the rage nowadays. And I often hear people bemoaning the “evil managers”. And no doubt in many circumstances and organizations there is real work to do here and real dysfunction to resolve. But I’m less concerned with the analysis of what’s wrong and more concerned with what can we do differently and better. IE: How can we develop the skills necessary to practice effective self-organization.

So what does it mean to be a participant in a “leaderful” group?


The implication of “leaderful” is that many or most of the people in the group are exercising leadership. It seems that leadership is necessary, humans can’t engage in group activity successfully without leadership. Successful group action always requires leadership and leaders. Someone, at least one person, must think about the effort as a whole and not only about her or his individual role in it in order for the group effort to succeed. A group can have more than one leader, but must have at least one to function successfully. Leadership is thinking about the well-being of the group as a whole as well as that of the individual group members. The essential commitment of a leader is to see to it that everything goes well.

I assume that leadership is an inherent capacity of every person and that leadership is not a “special” role or activity only for “special” people. The skills of successful leadership can be taught, learned, mastered, and practiced.

Further, I assume that people are fundamentally peers and that we are all doing the very best that we can at the moment. So the question becomes how do we reconcile assuming leadership with our peers? And how do we support each other in developing our leadership skills together?

More on this later…


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