Interview with Lyssa Adkins

Hear Lyssa Adkins, author of the legendary book “Coaching Agile Teams”, talk about complexity and the importance for leaders to upgrade, downgrade and expand.

A short summary of the interview

Lyssa Adkins, an experienced Agile coach, has shifted her focus to leadership development and effective leadership team functioning. In the interview, she discusses adapting to complexity in a changing world and previews her upcoming interactive session on leadership in such environments. She outlines three strategies: upgrading mental complexity, downgrading/managing reactivity, and expanding leadership team capabilities.

Full transcription

Hello and welcome to this interview. With me today I have no less than Lyssa Adkins. I’m very happy to have you in the program and in this interview. For those that don’t know you, can you please present yourself?

I’m an agility and Leadership coach and for about 10 years I was a passionate player in the emergence of Agile coaching as a profession. During that time people would call me the coach of Agile coaches. But for the last five years or so I’ve been focusing on leaderfulness and how we build more leaderfulness in organizations and also how top leadership teams can function better. Along the way, I wrote the book “Coaching Agile Teams” which is now 13 years old and still doing its work in the world. So, I support other people as they’re learning from that through programs and most recently a guided study and practice program that I’ve just created.

I really love you book by the way. It’s fantastic. This program is about leading in complexity could you please let us know a little bit of your view of complexity?

What helps me come to the essence of complexity is this idea that in a complex environment the same inputs do not give you the same outputs. How aggravating and confounding is that? It would be so nice if we could reproduce the same thing again and again and that there were not that many surprises. In a complex interconnected and ever-changing environment, we don’t get to choose the surprises and we don’t get to settle down into the one way it’s always going to work. That’s how I think about complexity.

How should we deal with this continuously changing world?

The interesting thing about the continuously changing world is that it is full of opportunity as long as you don’t find your personal sense of safety in a specific outcome, happening a specific way. In the work that I do, with leaders and with the functioning of leadership teams, that’s something we’re always confronting because people want it a certain way. They see that it could be that way. In previous eras it was actually possible to predict things more accurately, to plan to get there. It would be more or less a straight line. It’s not so anymore so of course this rocks us right to our core, goes right to our sense of safety and belonging and significance. We get to work with identity crises, which are super fun, wonderful, and challenging moments in people’s lives.

Your speech at the program will be about our planetary challenges and about the Agilists’ emerging superpowers. Can you tell us a little bit more about that and what will people bring with them after your session?

The angel I’m going to take here, through this idea of Agilists having emerging powers and us being in a world of planetary challenges, is the question of: “What is the leader’s “Agile“ transformation?”. I put Agile between air quotes because I think it’s important to mark that their transformation is necessarily different than what other people in the organization go through when they are starting to use Agile or any of these future of work processes and human Technologies. How it links to planetary challenges is that I predict that pretty soon our planetary challenges, things like really intense storms caused by climate change, things like the rise of extremism and mass migration, for any number of reasons war and climate change whatever. All of those things are going to be big business at some point so that’s one angle about planetary challenges. The other angle is that we might not have enough minds in the game to meet our planetary challenges. So, the question I always hold is “What can leaders and leadership teams do in their organizations to increase people’s engagement in their organizations?”, not only for the organization’s good but for the coming challenges that we’re likely to face. That gets to the existential question of whether will we still be here as a thriving human existence on the planet.

These are really big questions. Will you fit that all into a 90-minute session?

We just going to take it really down to three specific things that I have found are useful when working with leaders and leadership teams. I keep saying leaders and leadership teams as two separate things because I do think there is a role for leaders to develop their own complexity as individual people but the way we find our way together is in how leadership teams function. I often say that what happens in the leadership team happens to the organization. Often you can see a microcosm of how the organization is behaving based on how the leadership team functions. It’s a really high impact. It’s a super high leverage when the leadership team functions well.

Long story short is that we’re going to hit three things: upgrade, downshift, and expand. Back to the complexity thing you just asked me. “Upgrade” is about upgrading one’s own mental complexity. And guess what, there are lots of known ways to do this. The second one is “downgrade” – ways to downgrade one’s own nervous system. As I worked with leadership teams more and more I noticed “Wow that person is triggered” and before you know it we have a bunch of people in a conversation. Their executive functions, their ability to function and think critically, and to have empathy for one another, are actually offline. They’re trying to make difficult decisions in that environment. It doesn’t work so well. There are ways to downgrade one’s own ownership. That’s upgrade and downshift. The third one is “expand“. Expanding the capabilities of the leadership team itself.

I talked about five core competencies that every team, especially a leadership team, needs to develop in the way they function. That’s basically it. This is not necessarily a perfect model of everything leadership teams and leaders need but these are the three things that I’m noticing are hindering our ability to be more of a match for leading in complexity.

Great! I’m really happy that you talk about leadership teams, not leadership groups because most leadership constellations I meet are not working together. They are instead making sure their department looks better than the other ones. They are not collaborating.

I also want to hear more about this upgrade, downshift and expand, and the five competencies. November 21 for everyone. That is when we will hear more about this and more about you, Lyssa.

It’s going to be an interactive session. I want people to know that. We’ll hear some ideas from me but then we’ll be interacting with each other, and I think that that can be really enlightening for people.

Thank you very much!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.