Agile Values and the Four Pillars of the Agile Mindset

As I travel around the world conducting workshops, people often ask me what ‘best practices,’ processes, tools, and frameworks will make them and their teams more Agile. My response is always the same. “Practices, processes, tools, and frameworks will not make you or your teams more Agile, nor can they guarantee a successful Agile transformation.” I remind them that individuals and interactions always take precedence over processes and tools. I then tell them, “If you truly want to “be” Agile, you will need to live the Agile Values every day, all day, at work and at home.”

In my opinion, which is based on many years of experience coaching individuals and teams, the Agile Values are the foundation of any successful Agile transformation. Over the years, I have seen far too many Agile transformations fail because the Agile Values were cast aside for processes and tools before hearts and minds were given a chance to change.

As I have stated before, a successful Agile transformation requires both individual and organizational cultural change. And this change has to take place from the top down. Unfortunately, far too many organizations want to bring in project management tools and label them as Agile. They then use these tools to command rather than influence what should be empowered, self-managing teams. This is a vicious cycle that erodes trust. And as any Agile practitioner knows, trust is essential if the transformation is going to succeed.

It’s been proven that the Agile Values engender trust. This, in turn, fosters team cohesiveness and collaboration. There is a bit of sticky widget here, though: There is only one person that you can change, and that person is you. You cannot help someone else to “be” Agile if you, yourself, are not “being” Agile. Again, “being” Agile means embodying the Agile Values.


At this point, some of you might be saying, “But Crago, I’m not a software developer. How is any of this going to help me?” The truth of the matter is Agile skills can and are being used in all kinds of projects—both business and personal. Agile is all about thinking outside the box and using iterative processes, collaboration, continuous improvement, and empowerment to help people solve their problems and accomplish their goals. When people truly embody the Agile Values, these skills become part of who they are, so it is not surprising that they would use them on a daily basis and in all parts of their lives.

Bruce Feiler presents an excellent example of living the Agile Values in his 2013 Ted talk entitled “Agile Programming—for your family,” in which he encourages listeners to use Agile to deal with the stressors facing modern families:

Once the foundation has been laid, i.e., truly living the Agile Values, the next step in a successful Agile transformation involves a change of mindset. As I stated earlier, I have seen many Agile transformations fail because Agile Values were cast aside before hearts and minds could be changed. Experience has taught me that it is impossible to truly “be” Agile without having the proper Agile Mindset.


As you can see, the Agile Mindset is built on the foundation of the Agile Values. Everything must start with the Values. In my opinion, the pillars of the Agile Mindset are:


Self-awareness gives a person a clear understanding of his/her personality. The self-aware individual becomes aware of his/her strengths and weaknesses, beliefs, traits, behaviors, motivations, and passions. Being self-aware also enables the individual to understand other people and their perceptions. This, in turn, helps the self-aware individual to understand his/her responses to them. The person who is self-aware will be able to see what needs to be changed in his/her life and will have the power to take the steps necessary to make those changes.

In order to help people in their Agile journey, you must develop self-awareness in your own life. There are many books you can read on self-awareness and emotional intelligence; however, the only way you can actually develop self-awareness is through the daily practice of becoming aware of your behaviors and thoughts throughout the day as well as any emotions you are experiencing. As you become more self-aware, you will be able to recognize your blind spots, biases, and filters and the affect they have on how others perceive you. Recognition leads to acknowledgment. Acknowledgment leads to change. And, in the end, this change will enable you to be a better servant-leader. I think it’s worth it. Don’t you?

Self-awareness does take practice, but the rewards will be seen in all areas of your life. Remember, the more self-aware you become, the better you will understand other people. Once you can understand people at a deeper level, the more Agile you can “be.”

For more information on self-awareness:

Global Listening

Being able to listen properly is a vital skill that everyone needs, whether they are going through an Agile transformation or not. Conversational misunderstandings can have far reaching implications; therefore, it is imperative that people learn how to listen not only to what is being said but also to what is not being said. It is also important to remember that people will have different communication styles based on their cultures, backgrounds, and life experiences. The one common denominator that all people share is that they want to be heard.

As a professional coach, I have spent countless hours learning and practicing the art of Global Listening. This practice has made me not only a better coach but also a better husband, father, and friend. In the Co-Active coaching model, there are basically 3 levels of listening:

Level 1: At this level, people are listening for themselves. It’s all about what they need and want. Their inner voices are in control. They may look like they are listening to what is being said, and, in part, they may be; however, their own thoughts tend to overshadow what the speaker is saying.

Level 2: At this level, people are focused on the individual and the words he/she is speaking. They are listening to understand what is being said. They do not notice anything else going on around them.

Level 3: This is Global Listening. At this level, people hear everything the speaker is saying. They are also cognizant of everything that is going on in their environment. They notice changes in the speaker’s body posture, tone of voice, hand movements, facial expressions, and how fast or slow he/she is talking. They also detect changes in their physical environment, such as changes in lighting, background noises, room temperature, etc. At this level, the listener may also become aware of his/her own intuition or “gut feeling” about something the speaker may have said.

Most people have no problem listening at Level 1. Unfortunately, at this level they are normally just hearing the words and not the real message. This level of listening does have its uses. Without it, people would never be able to take care of their personal needs, such as scheduling appointments and making their personal preferences known. Listening skills at Levels 2 and 3 are more difficult to develop; it takes countless hours of practice, but it is well worth the effort. At Level 2, people listen to understand. At Level 3, they listen to what is being said as well as what is not being said. An effective listener knows how to listen at all three of these levels.

I cannot overstate the importance of being a good listener. Developing good listening skills will improve not only your work life but your personal life as well. As I have stated before, trust is an essential element in a successful Agile transformation. Trust is engendered through effective and honest communication. Effective and honest communication is based on understanding. And understanding engenders empathy. Trust, honesty, understanding, and empathy are all necessary for a successful Agile transformation.

For more information on Global Listening:

Nonviolent Communication

Nonviolent Communication, or NVC, is a communication model that fosters interdependence through compassionate relating. The NVC model teaches people how to express themselves in ways that will increase the likelihood that they will willingly contribute to the well being of one another. NVC does this by encouraging people to let go of their own interpretations and judgments and to observe what is actually happening.

In his excellent book, Nonviolent Communication, 3rd Edition, Marshall B. Rosenberg, PhD, states that, “NVC fosters deep listening, respect, and empathy and engenders a mutual desire to give from the heart” (12). According to Dr. Rosenberg, NVC does this by focusing consciousness on observing rather than evaluating; by identifying, expressing, and taking responsibility for one’s true feelings and needs; and by learning how to use positive language when making requests of others.

In a nutshell, bullying, threatening, yelling, and coercing don’t work. Empathy, understanding, and compassion—both for self and others—are far more effective modes of communication. In truth, everyone wants to be heard, and everyone wants to have their needs acknowledged and met. NVC encourages people to think about the words they speak and the impact that they may have on those around them.

Dr. Rosenberg’s work is far too extensive to be put into bite-sized pieces. As I have found Dr. Rosenberg’s work to be invaluable in my own Agile coaching practice, I would encourage you to look into his work yourself. As I have said many times before, the success or failure of an Agile transformation hinges on effective communication. NVC is just another tool in a successful Agile practitioner’s toolbox.

For more information on this subject, see the following references:

Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, Marshall Rosenberg

The Center for Nonviolent Communication:

Servant Leadership

Servant leadership is a concept that has been around for over two thousand years. Lao Tzu, author of the Tao Te Ching, used the following words to paint a portrait of the true Servant Leader:

“With the greatest leader above them,

people barely know one exists.

Next comes one whom they love and praise.

Next comes one whom they fear.

Next comes one whom they despise and defy.

When a leader trust no one,

no one trusts him.

The great leader speaks little.

He never speaks carelessly.

He works without self-interest

and leaves no trace.

When all is finished, the people say,

“We did it ourselves”

(Verse 17, taken from Change Your Thoughts—Change Your Life, 76).

Lao Tzu penned these words around 500 BCE. However, it was Robert K. Greenleaf who first coined the phrase “servant-leader.” In his 1970 essay entitled, “The Servant as Leader,” Greenleaf states, “The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first”(Kindle Location 4185). In Greenleaf’s opinion, the desire to lead should be born out of the desire to serve.

According to Greenleaf, the ten principles of Servant Leadership are: Listening, Empathy, Healing (making whole), Awareness, Persuasion, Conceptualization, Foresight, Stewardship, Commitment to the Growth of People, and Building Community. Greenleaf believed, as do I, that the servant-leader must have a servant’s heart. Servant-leaders put other’s first. They are known by what they do, not by what they say.

The concept of the Servant as Leader came to Greenleaf when he was reading Hermann Hesse’s short novel, Journey to the East. Interestingly enough, during my travels to Singapore and China I heard a story that reminded me of Hesse’s allegory. I do not remember how I came across the story, but it impressed me so much that I use it in all of my training sessions. It goes something like this, and I paraphrase:

Long ago, during a time of war, a ruler decided to go out among his people. Not wanting to be known, he dressed himself as a peasant and joined a group of common people. As they were “common” folk, they had no idea that their King walked among them.

As they traveled from one place to the next, the “peasant” helped the group. He took on any job that they didn’t want to do. He cleaned their clothes, fetched their water, and cooked their meals. There was no task too lowly. Sadly, in the beginning, some of the people mistreated him. The “peasant” chose to ignore the slights and continued on with his work.

As will happen in times of great conflict, the people became disheartened. Some of them began to tell the “peasant” their troubles; and as he cleaned their tents and washed their clothes, he would offer them bits of advice—sage advice, if you will. As time wore on, the men sought more and more advice from this “peasant,” still not realizing who he really was.

At the end of the battle, they headed back to their own land, shouting and cheering, “We did it. We returned to our homes victorious. We did it ourselves.” During all the celebrations, they failed to notice that the “peasant” was no longer with them.

When they were invited to the Royal Ceremonial Hall to be honored for their valor, they were excited and proud of what they had accomplished. A hushed calm fell over the hall when their King appeared in all of his magnificence and glory. The men dropped to their knees and humbly bowed their heads, still not recognizing the ruler as the “peasant.”

It wasn’t until the King spoke to them that they suddenly realized that the “peasant,” who had done all of their lowly chores and who had spoken with such humility and wisdom, was, in fact, their ruler. And it was in this moment that they realized that they had succeeded because their King had become their servant in order to teach them how to become real leaders.

When I first heard this story, I immediately thought about all the leaders I have had in my lifetime and how they impacted me, both positively and negatively. The leaders that stand out in my mind were those who embodied this King’s servant heart. They were the leaders who put my needs above their own. They helped me hone my skills and encouraged my upward mobility—all the while knowing that my advancement could lead to my leaving their organizations. They walked their talk—even when they knew it might cost them in the end.

A true servant leader will do whatever is necessary to help his/her people. This requires a change of heart for some people. Show me a person who is truly “Being Agile,” and I will show you a person who has had not only a change of heart but also a change of mindset. You really can’t have one without the other. They are two sides of the same coin.

For more information on the subject of Servant-Leadership, go to:

So now you might be saying, “But Crago, I’m not a leader. I’m just a member of a team. Doing my job. Minding my own business. What does all this servant-leader stuff got to do with me?” First, and foremost, you don’t have to be in a leadership position to be a servant leader. Each and every person involved in an Agile transformation needs to be a servant leader; and when I say each and every person, I mean just that—executives, product owners, Agile program managers, Scrum Masters and Agile team members, et al. Think of it as a kind of trickle down economy of caring.

Successful Agile teams consist of people who are self-managing and empowered. In order to be self-managing, the team must work together and take into account the needs of all of its members. Many times, this means putting the needs of other team members before their own. The members of a successful Agile team respect and care for one another. They value each other’s opinions and cultivate a caring culture of trust.

It can be very difficult for an Agile team to remain servant-leaders within the team structure when those higher up the corporate ladder are not acting as servant-leaders themselves—difficult, but not impossible. I have had the pleasure of working with many teams whose members exemplified the concept of servant-leader within their team structures even when their executives, product owners, product managers, and believe it or not Scrum Masters were still caught up in the old paradigm of might makes right.

Unfortunately, this type of situation is not sustainable in the long run. Which is why so many Agile transformations fail. I cannot emphasize this enough: A successful Agile transformation requires a change of heart and a change of mindset. This change of heart is born out of living the Agile Values. It all begins here. One cannot “be” Agile if one is not “living” Agile.

Once a person’s heart is changed, his/her mind will soon follow suit. This change does not begin overnight nor does it come without some personal commitment. In my opinion, the pillars of the Agile Mindset are Self-Awareness, Global Listening, Non-Violent Communication, and Servant-Leadership; and that is why I continually strive to gain mastery in these areas in hopes of one day assimilating all that I am learning.

But trust me; it doesn’t end there. As you continue your Agile journey, you will find, as I have, that living the Agile Values has expanded not only your mind and your heart but also the very core of your being. Being a servant-leader slowly but surely becomes second nature, as does self-awareness; and open and honest communication—well, that becomes your forte. Standing in your courage becomes second nature. Your ability to trust deepens, as does your ability to empathize with others. Before long, you will hardly recognize the person you used to be. Best of all, if you’re looking for it, each new day will bring another golden nugget for you to put into your Agile toolbox. Never fear, it can hold them all. And so can you.

Be Safe and Be Agile


butch Steve Crago is an Agile Coach for IBM’s Agile Academy. Steve is an ICAgile Certified Expert Agile Coach (ICE-AC), an Agile Coaching Institute Certified Team Transformation Coach (ACI-CTTC), and a professional Co-Active Coach. He is also a member in good standing of the International Coach Federation (ICF).

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