What is a camel?

Open dialogue, inclusion, collaboration are all important. Critical even. That being said, we must stay true to our goals and not let the accumulated weight of opinion nudge us off course. Unless we’re on the wrong course.

There have been many articles written, podcasts made, courses delivered, TV programs aired and books published on the topic of Leadership. And in particular, great leadership.

What makes a great Leader?

Look it up on Google. There are squillions of sites and blogs dedicated to the topic.

You’ll see sites with titles like:

“12 qualities of a great leader”, “The top 5 characteristics of great leadership” and “The 8 essential qualities that define a great leader”.

You get the picture.

If you set about reading all of these sites – apart from losing all your friends – you’d be able to distill the list of qualities to a core set of commonly quoted characteristics. Most of which have been attributed to people who have, themselves, been identified as great leaders.

So what?

Well – a particular quality that keeps cropping up is Vision. Clarity of Vision. A great leader is one who – amongst other traits – has a clear view of what they want to achieve.

Not only that though.

Critically, they have a passion for promoting this vision. Of being evangelical. Of selling their vision, and attracting buyers. Of painting a picture of what “Success” looks like (buzzword bingo alert). Getting people hooked on the idea. Bought in. Excited. Passionate.

Not only that though.

It’s all very well having a vision, but people need to believe you. Believe in you. Believe that you can deliver. Believe that you will deliver. No question. No doubt. For ever and ever, Amen.

But you can’t be a great leader – you can’t be any kind of leader – if you don’t have followers. A team. A useful team. Dedicated. Active. Productive. Engaged. Inspired. Inspired by you. A team that knows it has been inspired by you.

You need to have a team that feels it can help you deliver. That it is there to support you, be there with you. For you. That it will make sacrifices alongside you. You need a team whose members feel empowered. Whose members are empowered. Whose members know that you have explicitly empowered them. And that you have an expectation that every member of the team will use this empowerment as you would in their place.

Is that it?

No. You need a team whose members feel valued. Feel that their work is being recognised. By you. A team made up of people who value your judgement. Your appraisal. Your view. Who trust you. A team that feels your trust in them. Mutual trust. A team.

And great leaders are innovative. They want to challenge the status quo. They want Change – but only change for the better. Staying the same won’t do.

Great leaders do not have titles like “Head of Business As Usual”.

And as a great leader you need a team that feels it can have a go too. A team that feels empowered to come up with better ways of doing things. Trying things out. Trailblazing.

And what’s more, the team needs to feel that their ideas, approaches, new ways of working are worthy of consideration. Worthy of scrutiny. Worthy of appraisal – even if those ideas end up on the agenda of the “No” Committee.

But here’s a thing.

If you have ever worked for a great leader – one who empowers you, encourages you, trusts you, values you, is innovative and is passionate about their challenging and enticing vision of the future – you will know that they are also masters of decision making.

Great leaders are decisive.

Great Leaders’ Famous Speeches

“We shall defend our island, but we’ll have to monitor costs. I think we should fight on the beaches too and maybe on the landing grounds. We’ll almost certainly fight in the fields and in the streets. Oh, and probably in the hills; because I have NO intention of Surrender. But obviously I can’t confirm that at this stage.” – Not Winston Churchill.

A decisiveness, empowering, passionate, trust-worthy and honourable visionary is a heady mix.

And as a great leader you need to be able to say “No” as well as “Yes”. And you need to be able to protect your team. To be the buffer against external noise and uncertainty. To know which battles to fight, and which to relinquish.

So what is a camel?

Well, one of the mistakes that teams make when they adopt Agile (as opposed to Waterfall), is to believe that agile is easy. That discipline is old-fashioned. That leadership is shared. That as a self-regulating and autonomous team, you can offer up new ideas and features that maybe haven’t been thought of before now and that the customer is going to love.

And, that everyone on the team can have a go too. It’s self-regulating and autonomous after all. Discipline is for wimps. Agile is cool and groovy.

Hmmm. So, just a couple of administrative points, if I may:

1. Agile is not easy, and requires industrial sized discipline. It is not a playground for those who have had a great idea which the customer will love. Requirements are planned, written up, estimated. They are fixed – until the end of the sprint. And it’s not your decision anyway.

2. Leadership is not shared. There is always a leader. The leader is in the business. The leader is the business – most often represented on the team by the Product Owner. The “go to” decision maker on the team for requirements, scope and feature sign-off.

And guess what? They have to be strong. Decisive. There are difficult questions to answer. Options to consider. Benefits to weigh-up. Wages to pay.

But what if the leader is not a great leader? What if they are not decisive? Have no vision?

Well then, you end up with a camel.




1. a racehorse designed by a committee.

  2 comments for “What is a camel?

  1. March 20, 2019 at 7:46 am

    Thanks for your comments. I must say that we do actually share common ground here. The real thrust of my post was that in a world of financial targets, strategic roadmaps, Target Operating Models (TOM), budgets, offshore, vendor agreements, Internal Audit, and all the rest – there are some constraints which go beyond the horizon of the scrum team (I take your point about Agile/Scrum) – and even Product Owner.
    Of course, the scrum team is jointly responsible for sprint planning (“those who do the doing do the planning”), but my point was that without discipline and decision making it’s easy to go off-piste quickly.
    It may be a great money-making idea to design and build an ice-cream maker which has unique capabilities in the market, and which customers would love, if such a product doesn’t fit with overall company strategy.
    Innovation, autonomy, thinking out of the box are all good things – but sometimes you need the picture on the box before you can start the jigsaw puzzle.
    Just a quick final point – you mention “software” in your post, which of course I understand, but I also use agile for business projects too.
    Anyway thanks for your reply, I appreciate your response


  2. Tom Baldwin
    March 19, 2019 at 4:46 pm

    Agile is neither a playground for the ill-disciplined nor a dictatorship! So, I think you’re very wrong. What you’re describing is more Micro Management than “Leadership.” (Maybe read some of John Kotter’s or Tom De Marco’s books?) ‘Command-&-Control’ just leads to office politics and makes for a pretty unpleasant working environment, whilst also destroying the pace of decision making, innovation, accountability and resilience that Agile brings.

    With reference to Rob Jefferies’ 3C (the card, the conversation and the confirmation) – “Requirements” are not “fixed” – and they are typically expressed as ‘Acceptance Criteria’ or ‘Conditions of Success’ (i.e. they are an abstraction) to provide greater flexibility to the Developer.

    No. You’ve used the word “Sprint” – which signifies Scrum (not “Agile”).

    No, it very much IS the Developers’ decision. Sprint Planning is a negotiation between the Developers and Product Owner – Backlog Items are pulled into the Sprint Backlog by the Developers (NOT pushed by the Product Owner).

    The Product Owner – as a business person – typically won’t have a clue why certain pieces of technical work, bug-fixing, maintenance and paying down technical debt are absolutely necessary. So just listening to the PO’s dictates is a surefire way for the Team’s pace of development (‘Velocity’) to go slower and slower and slower…

    Whilst we certainly wouldn’t want a weak and indecisive Product Owner, it is their job to Manage the Product Backlog – NOT the Sprint Backlog or the people.

    No. “Sign-off” is a Waterfall concept associated with Phase Gating. (Read Oosterwal’s “The Lean Machine” to find out why this is such a terrible and counter-productive idea). If you’re doing Scrum, you should be creating an increment of working software to be reviewed by the Customer / User at the end of the Sprint in the Sprint Review. There they get to see if what they’ve asked for is what they actually want; if not – ‘no problem’ – time to get another Product Backlog Item prepared…


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