#Agile Leadership and Reality TV

After being on many Agile teams and reading a lot of thoughts on leadership, I find it harder and harder to not pay attention to leadership (good and bad) in other aspects of life. One of these situations arose last night in Gimli after a long day at the beach.

Master Chef

My wife and I sat down to watch Master Chef after the kids finally went to bed and although I find the process of making the food interesting, unfortunately the leadership demonstrated in this show is similar to what I’ve seen previously on ‘The Apprentice’. And no, that isn’t a good thing. These people are called Project Managers, but they are setting back leadership and Project Managers decades.

Here is what I have observed:

1)      People only want to be Project Managers when they think they can win. This seems to be one of the main criteria for when and where they take a turn as Project Managers.

2)      People become Project Managers with the primary goal of showing what they can do. There really isn’t the concept of winning with the team. The goal of winning is all for themselves and their ego.

3)      And perhaps the worst of all; People seem to want to be Project Managers so they can order people around and make all the decisions on how things will be done. It seems that people love being Project Manager as they feel that can finally decide how everything gets done and get back at the one person that they hate. These people really do need to read the Prime Directive.

So it really isn’t a surprise when almost all of the projects fail. The projects that do succeed do so in spite of the Project Manager not because of it. And when the project fail, there is the stereotypical rounds of blame and people avoiding blame.

In many ways, they are holding Post-Mortems and not a Retrospective as they are not interested in saving future patients, just in coldly finding a reason for the project’s death. (even if it is the wrong one..)

Silent Brainstorming

The ‘brainstorming’ that occurs on the shows can be a commercial for why Silent Brainstorming is so useful. The team sits around the table yelling out ideas with the loudest person winning and the Project Manager ultimately overriding any ideas to fit his or her vision.

When I explained Silent Brainstorming to my wife, she immediately saw the benefit of the technique and hit on one other aspect that I never considered. On Master Chef, ideas were shot down and dismissed just due to whom brought them forward before they were fully considered. Usually this was due to a personal bias towards one person and their ideas. (i.e. a grudge) Silent Brainstorming would help to prevent this selective dismissal of ideas. When I think of Silent Brainstorming, I think about how it helps to bring out the best in people and help to bring out ideas that people may be too shy or reserved to bring forward. But in addition, it certainly can help to limit negative behaviours and their impact on brainstorming.

She agreed that Silent Brainstorming would be the ideal way to gather ideas for the best plan possible.

To be honest, there was no brainstorming going on. Just yelling.


I am currently reading ‘Beautiful Teams’ and they have one quote that captures my feelings on what leadership and Project Management should be.

Edwin Schlossberg once said about writing: “The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think”. I think this idea is so profound and true it can easily be extended to leadership and Project Management:

“The purpose of leadership and Project Management is to create a context and atmosphere where team members can think, innovate, and create ideas. In addition, Project Managers and leaders are just one voice equal to all the others when it comes to ideas and innovations.”