Lever 4 : Activate the Journey (Mind the Gap)

It’s round about now that things get exciting because up until now I haven’t really been talking much about agile and transferring agile over to teams. Lever 4 is all about that. It is about Activating the Journey or to put it another way, Mind the Gap. It takes more than a direction and passionate, engaged people to create the magic that is a high performing team. You also need to know how to cross the gap from where you are now to where you are going. This sounds like a simple and obvious step. It isn’t! How do I know ? Two reasons. The first is a personal one, not being able to recognise and accept my ‘here’ almost cost me a world record. The second comes from listening to other people talk. I hear the word should a lot! Quite simply, should means that you are focusing on something that doesn’t exist right now and you can’t work with something that doesn’t yet exist. You can only work with where you are at. Should is at least one step beyond where you are right now.

A quick story to illustrate. As some of you know, I hold the Guinness World Record for the Deepest Dive by a Woman on Scuba. Long (long) story short I almost didn’t make it because I didn’t know how to recognize ‘here’. In my mind how it should work out was that Nuno Gomes (2 times world record holder and the person who taught me deep diving), would be my mentor and be there helping me work out how to get deep. Naturally I would do the dive with his support team (after all they were my friends and I was on that support team) and I would have full sponsorship. It would be easy, no risk really as Nuno would do the dive with me so if anything went wrong, I had someone who could get me back out again. Only Nuno didn’t buy it. I spent 3 years trying to convince him and the team that this was the way forward and didn’t get anywhere.

I have the world record simply because I gave up on where I thought I should be and instead looked at where I was. I worked with what I had even though I thought I had nothing that I needed and that there was no way I could get deeper from where I was. The end result was I did a dive in a high risk location (because I didn’t have the resources to access the better location), with a fraction of the gear I needed, on a shoe string budget with 2 support divers. I did it solo without anyone else to blame or lean on if it went wrong. There was just me making the decisions and choices. If I messed up it would be my fault, if I succeeded it would be my fault. Spoiler alert – I succeeded and 6 months later found myself with a full support team and sponsorship at the ideal dive site doing my first attempt at the record.

How does this translate for leaders ? You can only start from where your people are. It doesn’t help to have a list of things that a person should be able to do – in fact working from a list of should is a sure fire way to create a space lacking in safety and so immobilise people. You can’t canyon jump! By which I mean, you can’t go from here to over there is one large jump, it needs smaller steps.

Any journey is a series of steps and choices. You can only start from where you are and if you are in a team, you can only start from where everyone is at. The first part of the journey is to get everyone to base camp. The journey to base camp is highly individual as pretty much every person is starting from a different point. Once everyone is at base camp then things get a little simpler. Everyone’s journey is still unique because every journey is in essence a personal discovery for the coach. It is about them finding out how they coach, how they use their uniqueness and their strengths to take them ever closer to the North Star.

How does this relate to leadership ?  As a leader you need to know where your team actually is and what problems they are facing right now. This is a way of working focus because how you work creates the results you experience. Every team has a way of working that is largely invisible to them and inside that there is a set of levers that the leaders can pull to shift performance. There is also a series of patterns and anti-patterns that either create performance or detract from it and when you have visibility of those as a leader, you are able to really see where teams are and how to avoid canyon jumping.

When we engage with teams from where they are at, leaning into a real problem they are having that is impacting their ability to deliver more value with more ease, then we start to add real value to the teams. We start to be relevant and make a difference. We are no longer chang for changes sake.

For more on this lever, read the blog Lever 4 : Activate the Journey