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Meet Olaf Lewitz

Helping others develop openness is a cornerstone of the Certified Agile Leadership (CAL) program, according to Scrum Alliance approved CAL Educator Olaf Lewitz. "One of the things we've learned about leadership is that when you create a space for something to happen, whether it's a meeting, a coaching session, or a whole company, it's limited by your ability to tolerate differences," Lewitz says.

"We call it open heart, open mind — as an Agile leader, I need to have a tolerance for things I don't like, things I don't want. If I don't, then everything that will happen in that space is what I would do. And that's a much smaller, more limited range of options, and I'm not going to grow."

A Certified Enterprise Coach in addition to his many other credentials, Lewitz calls himself the Trust Artist to highlight the importance of this value. This was a lesson he himself had to learn the hard way, he says, when he found himself in charge of a company at the age of 29.

"I had no idea how to be a boss. The only thing I thought I knew was that I wasn't supposed to ask any questions, because asking questions sounds like you don't know the answers, and if you're the leader you're supposed to know all the answers."

The problem with that approach, Lewitz says, is that you end up in an echo chamber of your own ideas, without access to all the knowledge, creativity, and ideas of those around you. To allow that input, he says, you have to have enough trust in yourself and others to be open and vulnerable.

"That was 15 years ago and I've shared that story many times, and I'm always surprised at how many people have had the same experience. They think they're supposed to be ‘strong' to be leaders, and that means they can't ask for help."

Over the past four years, Lewitz and his training partner, Christine Neidhardt, have honed their approach in leadership courses offered by TrustTemenos, which can last as long as ten months. In their two-day CAL I offerings, they distill these lessons down into an "intense" interactive experience. Based outside of Berlin, Germany, they teach all over Europe and the UK.

By co-teaching as a team, they have more opportunities to demonstrate a back-and-forth collaborative leadership style. "Agile is not about single viewpoints, it's about teams and co-creation, so by teaching together we're demonstrating that," says Lewitz.

In other words, they take very seriously the idea of peer-based learning, sharing, and feedback, one of the pillars of the Certified Agile Leadership (CAL) program from Scrum Alliance®. Now in its second year, this program is a two-part offering designed to develop Agile leadership competency, maturity, and effectiveness. Participants learn the concepts and experiences of Agile leadership, followed by advanced learning and practices.

Lewitz and Neihardt have a motto for their leadership method: "You may bring your comfort zone, but you might not spend a lot of time in it." What they mean by this is that their classes offer a safe space to share and test out new ideas and ways of interacting. "We take a challenging approach, and try to get people thinking and questioning," says Lewitz.

Learning to handle ambiguity is a kind of "reprogramming," they point out. "We're culturally programmed to take sides; you're expected to have an opinion and see things as right and wrong," says Neidhardt. "Our approach is that the whole course is an Agile experience of leadership. We want those in our classes to see us acting in an Agile manner, and they are also asked to act, to bring something to the course. Leading and following is one of the most important concepts we have in Agile, so we start right out modeling that."

It's human nature to want to decide one view, opinion, or approach is “right" and to expect to take direction from a solo leader, Lewitz notes. However, in the group space of CAL courses, it's beneficial for educators to create a listening space where multiple options and answers are possible. “As a leader, if you hold back, breathe, and let the whole group see what is the best option, something more interesting will come of it," he says.

In CAL I, TrustTemenos works collaboratively with students, getting everyone involved and contributing, and incorporating participants' prior experiences as learning materials. “Recently in London we had someone whose company was already a very advanced Agile company, so we decided to have him present his company as a case," Neidhardt says. “As he was telling his story, everyone had to visualize and capture the most important aspects of this Agile organization on paper."

Such exercises go on throughout the classes, because Lewitz and Neidhardt believe that engaging students in active processes such as writing and drawing makes the lessons learned much more memorable.

“When you're active, one of the outcomes is that you listen in a much more focused way," Lewitz says. “And when it's in a group like this, you look around and you see who is capturing what and then you add to that and build on it." Doing so helps students pin down concepts that may at first seem abstract and theoretical — such as the tenets of Agile leadership.

“We know that spatial arrangement of things influences your thinking. When you ask someone, ‘What do you know about engagement and how it relates to the outcomes of organizations?' if you just talk about it and they write it down, then it's a linear process," Lewitz says. “When you have everyone drawing on big piles of paper, it's multidimensional. This kind of visualizing is much more effective than explaining in words."

Another thing participants will find in Lewitz's CAL offerings is a lively atmosphere that may include disagreement. In fact, they say, a recent class took a turn into open conflict — and led to some particularly positive feedback. “Afterwards, people told me, ‘It was so great that we had conflict, because we have to learn to lead in that environment. It would be boring to learn to lead only in harmony,'" Lewitz says. 

Lewitz and Neidhardt have upcoming trainings in London, Cologne, and Nuremberg, with more in the planning stages. Their goal is for all participants to discover that wherever they are on their leadership journey, there is already a leader inside them, even if they aren't aware of it.

Lewitz and Neidhardt think of their approach to CAL as helping participants discover and tap into the leadership abilities they already have.  “People at all levels of responsibility want to develop leadership," says Lewitz. “They come to us when they're ready to take the time to invest in themselves and go to the next stage."

 

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