Leadership Agility – A Model for Understanding Managers

I was really impressed with Bill Joiner and Michael Hamman’s Agile 2012 session on Leadership Agility.

The key take-away is that there are three modes of thinking for a manager or change agent: problem-solving, strategic, and visionary (these are my labels). In the last week I have been able to effectively use this model to better understand how managers are interacting with their organization.

Here is the visual note I created during the session:

Expert (Problem-solver)

These folks jump into the problem, get the data and use their expertise to decide what needs to be done. They like to do the work themselves and tend to micro-manage. There is no leadership team – only hub & spoke command and control.

Achiever (Strategic)

These folks are focused on the organizational target. Typical tools will include listening to people, using systems thinking, working groups to analyze and understand. The Achiever sees herself as the leader of the team and will foster collaboration and teamwork to achieve the goal.

Catalyst (Visionary)

The catalyst is focused on nurturing and growing the organization. They carry a vision of a break-through organizational culture and work equally with others to bring about this vision. They are looking to improve the production capacity of the system by tacking fundamentals. They are seeing a deeper reality and using that as leverage.

Factory Analogy

In the top right corner, I have a factory analogy.

  • The Expert is working on fixing broken machines and expediting orders
  • The Achiever is looking at the whole output of the factory and working with the team to optimize it
  • The Catalyst is looking at the people and the culture and how to grow their capability.

To learn more, please see Bill Joiner’s book or consider taking one of his workshops.

How this relates to Coaching

When working as a coach we also need to choose at which of the three levels to interact with a client. For example, if we notice is a team is having a problem, we can intervene at any of these three levels:

  1. I can tell them what the problem is and how to fix it
  2. I can lead a retrospective and guide them to a solution/mitigation
  3. I can help them learn how to sense the problem and support them in resolving it on their own
Print Friendly
Tagged with:

Find Content

Adoption Agile Agile2009 Agile Failure Agile in the Large Agile Tour Toronto Change Artist Christine Day Coaching Communication Container Craftsmanship Creativity Empathy Facilitation Fear Games and Simulations Hierarchy Kanban Kotter Leadership Lean Management Observing Organizational Change Organizational Culture People Personal Growth Production Product Strategy Project Management Red Pill Safety Scrum Strategic Play Teamwork Technical Practices Training Training from the Back of the Room Transformation Transition Trust VAST Vulnerability XP


  1. Michael, as always love your notes for their insight… have you looked @ myai.org… has some interesting meyer/briggs like approach I think you will find interesting…Peter Saddington is behind myai.org and I think you and he if have not met you need to 🙂

    • Dude, good to hear from you. myai.org looks pretty cool – I’ll put Peter on my horizon.

  2. Would you say choosing which coaching method should be based on where the client is with regards to their mastery of the issue at hand?

    Cheers and thanks for taking the time to make the post!


    • Yes. That’s part of the skill of coaching – playing at the highest level possible (catalyst if possible) for the client level of learning so that learning is maximized. (Too high a level will disconnect and there will be no learning).

  3. It would seem that people could cross boundaries under certain circumstances. Achievers with expertise in a certain area might become Experts at certain points and go back to being Achievers under normal circumstances. Some Achievers may have Catalystic tendencies as well. Good article (and graphics), thank you for sharing.

    • I absolutely agree. I would go further and say that a great leader can dynamically change their level of function depending on the needs of the situation.



  1. Your Company Culture Will Eat Your Strategy for Breakfast | OpenView Labs - [...] identified a number of distinct mindsets that can be found with managers/leaders. and his work on Leadership Agility. The following…

Submit a Comment

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