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The one trait that differentiates the best agile coaches


I won't keep you in suspense for very long; I see the biggest differentiator of the best agile coaches being grit. Here’s a short quote on the topic of grit from Wikipedia

…an individual's perseverance of effort combined with the passion for a particular long-term goal or end state (a powerful motivation to achieve an objective). This perseverance of effort promotes the overcoming of obstacles or challenges that lie on the path to accomplishment and serves as a driving force in achievement realization.

You might read this and think it is simply stating the obvious; that a great agile coach is passionate and determined to achieve the objective that they have been set. I would argue that it's not as common as you think it is, change and resistance to change are difficult even for agile coaches who do it as their profession. Amongst agile coaches there is of course determined and passionate practitioners but there are also those that are more relaxed in their approach (to getting coaching outcomes).

When I see a coach that is doggedly determined to persevere in the face of heavy and ongoing resistance and somehow manages to manufacture some light at the end of their coaching tunnel and bring others along on the journey of hope for a better way of working, I immediately recognise this and start to think of this coach as one that I want on my team.

Conversely when I give a coach an opportunity in a difficult situation and they take the easy road of applying a process instead of delving into the complex-human system; then I gently encourage them to take a second look and double down their efforts to effect change.

Don't expect to get comfortable

Agile coaching is not a comfortable job and if you seek stability and comfort in your work I would counsel you to consider other roles. Agile coaching by definition deals with high levels of complexity, ambiguity and often chaotic situations. What this means is the agile coach must be a leader and model a level of passion and determination that inspires and energises the humans in the system they coach. This energy is used to co-create a way forward.

Grit across your career

As an agile coach develops their career they go through a phase where they're acquiring vast amounts of knowledge on how agile is applied in the workplace both in terms of processes as well as ways and means to influence the mindset of the people in the system. This is building the agile coach’s SKILLs. If you investigate the literature on what grit means you will see that following this skill acquisition phase there is a second phase where grit is required to achieve outcomes. In this second phase the agile coach takes all of their skills from the first phase and applies them into new and novel settings to embed the learnings and deepen their understanding of what it means to be an agent of change. The illustration below shows how this two-phase approach leads to outcomes in the face of resistance.

Final words and conclusion

As an agile coach do you persevere in the face of resistance, double your efforts and do the hard work OR do you go and coach somewhere with less resistance where you are in your comfort zone? All agile coach roles should have a combination of both; execution with less resistance together with engagements that are more difficult. This combination allows the coach to develop grit whilst also feel like they are winning. So my take way point is to practice balancing your portfolio of work to include both easier and more difficult assignments to ensure you grow and develop (grit) as an agile coach.

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