A Leader Coaches

I am not bothered by the fact that I am unknown. I am bothered when I do not know others. ~Confucius

I am on somewhat of a career rebirth. After 17 years at the same company, I changed industries, changed roles…actually…returned to a role I had while working in India. It is a role I heartily enjoy, a role that ignites my passions. I am a coach, an Agile software development coach to be specific. I view the role more as a life / leadership coach. Agile just happens to be the framework in which I perform my role.

Agile is heavily used for software development. It is much more a mindset than a set of tools / processes. It is very easy to do Agile development, but difficult to do Agile development well. That’s because doing Agile well requires practitioners to undergo a mind shift and be Agile. Being Agile is far removed from the typical top down, hierarchical mindset characterizing many traditional companies in that the team is empowered to manage its own destiny.

Agile, done right, is a boon to the people on Agile teams. Done right, people build solid relationships based on trust resulting in an environment where there is safety – safety to create, safety to experiment, safety to fail, safety to succeed. Done right, customers are delighted with the products delivered. Done right, people are continually learning with their team. Done right, people experience joy at work.

Done wrong…people are still pawns in a corporate system bent on squeezing every bit of energy out of the individual in the quest to maximize shareholder value for the upcoming quarter. Done wrong, it’s almost better to stay in waterfall and not give the people hope of a better tomorrow.

Thankfully, I work in an organization that is trying to do Agile right for the customers and right for the employees. Because the environment is healthy, I believe in a better tomorrow and am free to coach people for their better tomorrow.

I love coaching.

I coached youth soccer for 14 years, focusing primarily on the hungry to learn 7 to 10 year olds. I coached product development and leadership in India for 18 months to a group of people hungry to grow and make their mark in their organization. I coached leadership for 4 years to people hungry to learn new skills and be a beacon of hope to a highly dysfunctional organization. I am now working in downtown Chicago with people in their 20s and 30s and 40s hungry to realize their potential as the company undergoes an Agile transformation.

My coaching philosophy, even before I knew I had a coaching philosophy, revealed itself in the early days of coaching youths. I approach coaching from a holistic perspective. I call it Inside-Outside coaching.

Inside coaching, heart coaching, is a sharp focus on the individual. Getting to know someone as a unique, holistic individual allows me to understand their story, their personal needs, their personal goals, the type of work that ignites their personal passion. Armed with this relationship, I tailor coaching to help them understand how they can achieve their personal goals within the context of the team goals. I also coach them that it is a two way street. They must serve the team so the team can serve them. The individual and thet team form a symbiotic relationship.

The Scrum Master is the recipient of my most intense Inside coaching. It is the Scrum Master that continues with the team when it’s time for me to let go. The Scrum Master must have a solid Servant Leaders mentality and skills if the team is to continue to thrive after I move on to other teams. If I have not coached the entire team to be independent then I have failed them.

Inside coaching is where I spend the vast majority of my coaching time. In India, I was holding about 50 one on one coaching meetings a month. At my new company, I am approaching the same number and expect to surpass it when I pick up my third team in the next months. In these meetings, I am laying the foundation for individual improvement, individual contribution to the team. The more solid the foundation the easier is the Outside coaching.

The Outside coaching focuses on the behaviors of the group in relation to helping each other achieve team goals. This is done primarily in the Agile ceremonial meetings – daily scrum, planning, review, and retrospectives. I watch how the team members interact within the group context and give them pointers as to how they can adjust behaviors for increased productivity. Normally, this comes down to a topic discussed in Inside coaching. Because I already have buy-in from the individual coaching, I am aware of how they will react in the group setting.

I find Outside coaching to be relatively easy if the Inside coaching has been effective.

When both foci are in alignment, the team gels almost automagically. It’s like lining up dominoes – Inside coaching. I add slight Outside coaching nudges here and there to ensure the dominoes maintain alignment and marvel as they all dance in concert.


Applying this coaching methodology within the framework of the Agile process, in which I am a believer, not just a doer, makes perfect sense to me. It feels like Agile was designed specifically with my coaching methodology in mind. A core Agile values is: Individuals and interactions over processes and tools. The individual (Inside coaching) and interactions (Outside coaching) align perfectly with my coaching philosophy.

Besides getting to participate in the growth of individuals and the success of teams, I live the Confucian maxim of getting to know many interesting people. And that brings me much joy.

Author: David A Olson

I often find my mind wandering to various subjects, subjects that make me stop and think. The blog, Musings of a Middle Aged Man, is a catalog of those thoughts I muse upon as I search for significance in life. I am the father of 3 children and the grandfather to 2. I spend my days working for a medium sized multinational corporation where I am an Agile Coach. I view myself as a Servant Leader, have a passion for leadership, particularly, in helping people develop their individual leadership skills and abilities. In October 2012, I went to India on business. After a week of being there, I still had not talked to or texted my 7-year-old grandson. He asked his mom, "Is Papa dead? He hasn't texted me all week." To facilitate communication now that he and I no longer live together, I started a blog for us to communicate. It's titled, "Correspondence Between Luke and His Papi". In April 2013, I moved to Pune, India on an 18-month delegation. It's an adventure that was 1.5 years in the making...The experience is captured on my blog, "The Adventures of an American Living Abroad" My two latest blogs are "The Learning Leader", a topic I have been studying since 1990, and "Lipstick on a Pig", a foray into the fashion sense of this middle aged man.

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