The Leadership Mindset with Christopher Avery

Episode 79

September 12, 2012



The Agile Weekly Crew and Christopher Avery discuss the leadership mindset and taking responsibility.

Clayton Lengel‑Zigich: Welcome to another episode of the Agile Weekly Podcast. I’m Clayton Lengel‑Zigich.

Drew LeSueur: I’m Drew LeSueur.

Roy vandeWater: I’m Roy vandeWater.

The Leadership Mindset

Clayton: Joining us today, we have Christopher Avery. We’re going to chat a little bit about leadership and specifically, the leadership mindset. When I hear the phrase “leadership mindset,” that to me, I think about getting in the mindset of being a leader. But it sounds like that may be something more specific to you. Can you maybe expand on that a little bit?

Christopher Avery: Sure. Thanks so much. I appreciate being on your podcast. This is fabulous. Leadership mindset to me…Chris Matts in the Agile community is pretty famous for saying “more leadership, less leaders.” That’s been a theme of mine for probably 25 years in the work on collaboration and team‑building.

To me, leadership could be defined as “any behavior that moves a group towards its goal.” Which means, for me it starts with an individual taking ownership, feeling a sense of ownership for some space, some opportunity, some outcome, some needs, some initiative.

Just call it a space ‑‑ taking ownership for some space, and then moving themselves into that space in a way that causes others to want to go with them, to get something done. For me, the leadership mindset is a mindset of personal responsibility, and understanding how powerful we are when we truly sign up to make something happen in some space. Maybe I’ll stop there, and let you tell me where you want to go with that.

Roy: It sounds like it’s not really an assigned position ahead of time. We’ve seen instances in which the leadership role can almost be a floating position, where whoever just seems to take the reins on a particular topic, it becomes the de facto leader until somebody else does. Is that what you’re talking about?

Christopher: Sure, that’s what I’m talking about. Absolutely. The issue is that the words “leader” and “leadership” can mean so many different things. Because we have hierarchy, and we have people with assigned authority and power positions, and people we look up to as called, “our leader,” a President or a boss, whatever.

To me, those people don’t necessarily demonstrate this leadership mindset. I hope they do. But sometimes, even the position of power or authority is an impediment to true leadership. We see that in self organizing.

When there is no one person who seems to have the authority to say right from wrong or prioritization or value, then, there is much greater personal ownership on the part of the whole team in terms of discussing such things. Haven’t you seen that?

Clayton: Yeah, I was going to say that. I felt there is times where, may be, someone is like the senior developer on some team and there is supposed to be this cross‑functional team and people are supposed to look to them and there is the hierarchy of the traditional organization and what it means to be a leader and they take all that stuff.

They maybe not have the personal responsibility, or all the other aspects that you mentioned before and they just assume that whatever I say goes because I am the person who is supposed to be the leader. So, why isn’t everyone following me?

Roy: That sounds like if that person, who was the leader of the group, and if they actually had good leadership qualities, it sounds like that could be a very strong force for the team as a whole. I understand the benefits of self‑organization, but there is also a lot to be said for somebody who has a clear mind on the future vision and keeps everybody focused towards that.

Clayton: Yes, I guess I have to agree with that. I really did like what you said Christopher, but the idea of a leader being someone who takes something, picks it up and then takes the team with them but not necessarily in the context of you have to have a certain role or a title or anything like that.

Those were the things and I guess I like to ask practical questions on this podcast. There are a lot of people out there who are not the leader on a team, would like to have them appointed leader by management and they don’t have the personal hierarchy and they have been there the longest, but they are very passionate about something and they will be willing to take the responsibility.

What would you suggest for someone that’s in that position, how do they demonstrate leadership mindset? Is it something that is just going to happen over a period of time?

Leading When You Don’t Have a Leadership Role

Christopher: That’s a great question. What I’d recommend there is, I’d recommend stepping forward, I’d recommend putting your foot in your mouth, I’d recommend trying, I would recommend anything worth doing is worth doing purely at first, I’d recommend going for it and being shut down even but willing to go forward again.

And if you find yourself in an environment where it’s not wanted or needed then, that means, may be its time for you to take your desires to make a better contribution somewhere else.

I’ve had the luxury of doing, actually having an academic background, is studying the science of leadership. There are three paths worth talking about in the science of leadership.

One is worth rejecting. The one worth rejecting is the idea of traits. Every list of the traits of a leader has been debunked. Multiple times, people have done correlation studies where they’ve taken all the various, six traits, eight traits, 10 characteristics, of a leader and cross‑referenced them all and what they’ve found is there’s no correlation.

Saying that a leadership or leader is a certain type of person is debunked. That ought to be great permission for everybody. The three parts of leadership study that are really valuable, first, I would say, is situational leadership.

Situational leadership says that true leadership is, actually, an intersection of a problem or opportunity and someone who seems to have a sense of what’s needed right now for that. What that means is not everybody has the leadership mindset in every situation.

Which is why, I think, in especially Agile and the collaborative approach to things is where we are always willing to pass the ball to somebody who is inspired at the moment or has some clarity at the moment about how to move things forward. I believe in situational leadership at the micro‑level.

What that means is, also, we don’t want to have a scarcity idea about leadership, like we think of leadership or leaders as only some people can do it. This idea of situational leadership and even micro‑situational leadership is an abundance notion.

Everybody can contribute something, some time, in this situation. I’ve got two others that I’ll talk about, but I don’t want to take all the air space here so I’ll shut up for a minute.

The Integrity Police

Clayton: Let’s go on a tangent real quick. There’s something that you folks had recently called the “integrity police.”

Christopher: Right.

Clayton: The idea of having someone on the team, I like the way you describe them as they remember everything, all the explicit and implicit things that everyone said and did and they can call things up. I guess, they are like the fact check people.

I’m curious to where that idea came from and you’ve got any negative feedback because a lot of people, I could imagine, they would think that’s like the “jerk” person on the team that no one actually likes. I was curious if you had anything negative from that post.

Christopher: Sure, where it came from was, actually, from qualitative research back in the 1990s in supply chain partnering between customers and suppliers in the semi‑conductor industry, when the US tried to regain market share that was sliding overseas. The issue was that in Asia, the supply chain was very tightly integrated and in the US, it was very ragged.

The strategy was to create trusting relationships at the boundaries of customers and suppliers. I did a tremendous amount of work in the arena.

Simply by interviewing people about what was working, this story kept coming up, over and over, about people who would say, “We can’t screw them that way,” or say, “You can’t do that to us.” Somebody called it the “integrity police,” one of our interviewees, so it was simply a phrase that stuck.

One piece of negative feedback about someone, they love the idea, but didn’t like the word “police.”

Clayton: I guess, I could see that having some negative connotations in some realms, so that makes sense.

Drew: Christopher, you talk about one pathway to leadership is somebody having some clarity on a specific thing and taking responsibility and ownership of that. What are those other two paths that you talk about?

State Research And Leadership

Christopher: That path is of situational leadership and it’s one of the extremely promising arenas of leadership study over the last 20 years or so. The other two are state research.

Remember I said, “Traits have been debunked.”

Clayton: Right.

Christopher: …it’s their qualities. State research says that there are more mental states that are more resourceful and mental states that are less resourceful. The state research on leadership says that people that exhibit leadership tend to get into a mental state of the leadership mindset, which I…

Christopher: …responsibility process, which I call taking ownership, getting to that place of feeling a sense of ownership for something that you may not have assigned. It may not be your accountability.

Like you guys…

Christopher: …at least at Gangplank, you guys have taken ownership of changing the way societies or communities support entrepreneurship. Nobody assigned you to do that. Nobody gave you the authority to do that.

It’s a sense of ownership. The state thing is useful. That’s where my responsibility process and what I call the leadership gift comes in. That is that you can actually change your mental state to one of more self‑leadership if you want to.

The third area is servant leadership, which we all know pretty well…

Christopher: The servant leadership research is really quite strong. Those would be three areas that I would recommend thinking about, in terms of developing your own leadership, is situational leadership, is “Where are you drawn in terms of having some clarity about what needs to be done”? Follow that.

Who knows? Follow your intuition. Follow your inspiration. Follow your initiative. Secondly…

Christopher: …learn how to move yourself to a resourceful mental state where you can feel free and powerful and generate choices. Then third, servant leadership is…

Christopher: …notion that there are no more problems in the world. There’s only messes. Today’s opportunity is find some huge mess that you can spend the rest of your life trying to help this world clean up. That’s called servant leadership.

Clayton: It seems like situational leadership is something that occurs naturally in people and the state leadership might be one that’s a little harder.

Roy: Isn’t situational more one of awareness of what the situation is? There’s a great quote by Susan Scott in “Fierce Leadership,” where she says, “The person within a group who is able to stay at the closest version of reality to the truth, often becomes its leader.”

Is it like that where you’re just really aware of what’s going on and are able to generate insights and draw that out of people?

Christopher: Absolutely, and that’s a section of situational leader…

Christopher: …and state leadership…

Christopher: …because…

Christopher: …leadership is somebody gets to that point of clarity. That point of clear thinking. State, the best case of reality, or however you said it, I love that because I agree with that.

Situational leadership is not something that you can design or plan for like, “Well, that guy, Roy, is going to be perfect in that position.” No, it’s an emergent thing. We find out that Roy was perfect in that position, only afterwards.

We thought Roy would be perfect in that position and Clayton…

Christopher: So situational leadership is, actually ‑‑ it’s never predicted. It’s an after‑the‑fact recognition.

Drew: The state one is more something that is predicted or planned for or that you can work on. Is that what you’re saying?

Christopher: Yeah, something you can work on as an individual. I believe that 90, pick a number, but 95, 99 percent of leadership is self‑leadership, where you are getting in touch with our integrity, your own truth, your own authenticity.

That makes you more powerful, more clear, more in touch with reality. That makes other people want to follow you into that for that to work.

I’m really tired of all the focus on leadership about being influence and persuasion and getting people to do what they don’t want to do. I think, that is very industrial‑aged, mechanistic‑aged, kind of stuff.

Clayton: We are about out of time here, but if someone wanted to learn more about all the stuff we’ve been talking about or more about you, where could they go and what would they find?

Christopher: Well, thank you so much. I’m pretty easy to find. My website is, or just search on my name Christopher Avery and the word “leadership” or the “responsibility,” and my results will fill the page.

I’d like for people to get in on the leadership program, free preview webinar. So just go to my website, find in the resources section the free previous webinar and sign up. You can, also, download a free responsibility process poster.

We’ll be doing a webinar somewhere mid‑September…

Christopher: …and tell people about that program. Thanks very much for allowing me to share that.

Clayton: Sure, and as always, we invite the guests to check us out at the Facebook Fan Page at You can discuss this episode and past ones as well.

We just wanted to say thanks again, Christopher. We really appreciate you coming on the podcast.

Christopher: Well, thank you, Clayton, for what you’re doing at Integrum and, also, at Gangplank. It’s just fabulous, so thank you very much.

Clayton: Thanks.

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