Editor's Note: Christopher Avery (above) is keynoting at The Path to Agility conference on May 23 - 24, 2012 at the Arena Grand Theater in Columbus. 

Christopher Avery: Leadership With Agility
By Terreece Clarke, April 26th, 2012

Christopher Avery, author of “Teamwork is an Individual Skill” and a keynote speaker at The Path to Agility conference on May 24th, is fascinated by the complexities of Agile leadership and its adoption across other industries.

"Agile was named/invented in the software industry so adoption there is ahead of other industries.” Avery said. “However every industry, company, role, and function that is exposed to change, complexity, and uncertainty can learn the mindset and tools for thriving if they are willing to outlearn their competition by practicing responsibility and adopting an agile culture and disciplines.”

Agile in Three Steps

Across any industry, Avery outlines three steps that can be taken to be successful in Agile leadership.

“Taking 100 percent personal responsibility for producing value is the overarching leadership approach,” he said. “To do that we must learn, correct, and improve based on feedback loops. Then we must fearlessly confront impediments to creating value where-ever those impediments are and regardless of whether they are in our control or authority.”

But this isn’t a new concept. In fact, suggests Avery, the very ‘beginnings’ of Agile practices began nearly a century ago before the software industry emerged.

“The roots of agile come from the Quality movement focus on continuous improvement that began in the 1940s and first made its mark in manufacturing,” he said. “So the linear-thinking style of most companies and executives today has been obsolete for half a century.”

Agile = Responsibility

Leaders interested in successful Agile leadership find themselves challenged by Avery's Responsibility Process, digging deep to undo years of learned behavior based on society’s expectations of what responsibility means.

"I want people to know how personal responsibility works in their minds -- how they can tap into their personal guidance system to have the life, work, and relationships of their dreams," he said.

He also said the most pressing issue leaders in charge of leading large change efforts face is their own resistance, defensiveness and coping mechanisms.

“...the basis for all leadership is self-leadership, which many so-called leaders don't do very well. That's why we have such an outcry for real, true, authentic leaders.”

Responsibility Drives Leadership

Personal responsibility has been the cornerstone of Avery's focus for years, making the connection between Agile and his research into leadership theory a seamless one.

“From about [age] 22 to 40 I was in search of a purpose. It found me,” he said. “In 1990 I set out to understand what personal responsibility is. I determined that teams work when people share responsibility for something larger than their role.”

“Everyone is born with the Leadership Gift. But most people never realize they have it so they don't develop it. With the research of the last 25 years we now know how to help you develop, practice, and even master your Leadership Gift.”

Avery uses the word "gift" because, he said, everyone is born with a mental program called the "Responsibility Process."

"It activates every time something goes wrong big or small," he said. "When things go wrong we can either cope or grow. In short, the story of the Leadership Gift is that we are all born with it (it being the Responsibility Process). Every act of leadership calls on the Responsibility Process. Most people never know they have this faculty, so they don’t develop it. Now, with the research of the last twenty five years, we know how to develop and master the Leadership Gift.”

Every Day Leaders

IT Martini asked this expert on leadership which leader he most admired, in any place and time.

Avery’s answer was surprising.

“Last week,” he began “a courageous woman with a traumatic brain injury attended my workshop "Leading People to Take Responsibility and Demonstrate Ownership."

While she visibly struggled and even checked out briefly to re-compose herself when the rigorous workshop experience impinged on her emotional and cognitive limits, she was determined to live, to thrive, to grow and to contribute. She was one of the most engaged and responsive participants that day. She confided in me privately that she was struggling mightily to completely own her "limitation." I said to her "aren't we all?"

“This week she is the leader that inspires me.”