The IIL Blog

LinkedIn Newsletter | Join our Email List

Three Principles for Management in an Agile World

Today, the role of the manager is being replaced by that of the agile leader…

I started my career as a passionate software developer, then I was promoted to manager of Engineering. Looking back honestly at the reasons I was chosen by upper management, I imagine them to be comprised of the following: I was respected by my peers in engineering as a decent coder. I didn’t mumble or have a strong accent. I was not very intimidating or did I call people stupid. Basically, I showed up for work on time, listened to my boss, and tried to do the right thing.

It was a promotion that included more pay, being included in strategic meetings, and feelings of becoming an adult. Until performance review time. I was told that I needed to rate the engineers from 1-5. This rating would affect an individual’s pay and could start moving them on a path out of the company.

At first, I tried giving everyone 5s. Upper Management told me sternly someone needs to be a 3. I tried again, giving one person a 4. No, I was told, at least one individual needed to be rated a 3.

I will never forget telling my buddy, during our one on one, that I gave him a 3. He disclosed to me that all year he had been suffering severe back pain and was on Valium. I felt like a horrible person.

As a manager, I was now pulled into more and more meetings with vendors and didn’t have time for software development sessions. When I did join, I noticed that I lost my edge and my fellow coders didn’t feel safe around me.

One day, an engineer that I very much admired told me that he thought I only looked out for myself. Then there was the time that a VP called me into his office to discuss delays and lost his temper. I took a walk outside of the building shaking, sat on a bench, and cried.

Management sucked and going back to coding didn’t feel right either. What I did realize is that I was no longer capable of accepting what came from upper management only to deliver to engineering.

I started to spend more time with my team. I no longer had answers to the most elegant way to code. I showed up, shut up, and listened. When upper management asked me to do something, I asked why. I started to disagree. I compiled ideas I collected from the team. I embraced their passion and did my best to bring their perspectives forward. I communicated more to the teams about the overall strategic direction of the company, paying extra attention to the “Why”. I got clear on my personal values and started leading with purpose and passion. It was completely different than the old ways of managing. I became a leader.

I went from not being liked to fostering a top-performing team that loved working together.

Today, when I coach organizations on agility, I love working with managers to become effective leaders. We look together at the teams, what gets in their way and what motivates them. How can we articulate their messages to the rest of the organization? What messaging do they need to feel aligned to the organizations’ value and purpose?

Today, the role of the manager is being replaced by that of the agile leader, who is grounded in these basic principles:

  • Listen more than tell
  • Connect people to the resources they need to succeed
  • Bring out the strengths of individuals so that we all work better together

Nathalie Brochstein, the author of this post, has led many organizations from start-ups to Fortune 100 companies through the transition from heavy outdated project management processes to innovative, effective, and team-based ecosystems. Nathalie will be a panelist at IIL’s Agile & Scrum Online Conference where she participates in a conversation about Agile at Large Organizations. Click here to learn more.


Nathalie Brochstein provides Organizational Growth Facilitation that supports companies to deliver consistent value while keeping pace with the market’s rapid changes. Her work harnesses the diverse strengths of a company’s people, transforming organizations into high-functioning organisms—where each individual has a vested interest in helping the greater collective thrive.

This article was originally published on www.leadingclearly.com and was republished here with permission from the author.

Scroll to Top