Category: Leadership Page 2 of 8

Fall’s Reminder That Change is Necessary

Living in Minnesota, fall is my favorite season. The crisp air, leaves changing colors and smells of chimney’s. It brings back cherished childhood memories. I remember the excitement of playing outside with friends after school. The closer it got to Halloween, the pinnacle of childhood bliss, the more fun we had.

Today, fall reminds me that change is necessary. As the leaves drop, it’s a good time to reflect inward. What changes do I need to make?  Leadership is about change, and often the most important thing to change, is ourselves.


About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an Agile Delivery Consultant and IT Project/Program Manager. Follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or visit Mike’s blog.




4 Proven Steps For The C-Suite To Drive Greater Agility

Pic credit to Unsplash

In our current age of digital disruptions and continuous market changes, C-level executives must prepare to achieve greater agility. This is true across all industries and sectors, not only in technology. Enterprise wide flexibility has far reaching advantages, including revenue and profit increase and faster speed to market.

Achieving greater agility is not only about software development and engineering methods. It’s also about culture change, which often is the biggest road block to agility. Changing culture requires commitment from the C-level. In a recent report by PMI and Forbes Insights (Achieving Greater Agility), they surveyed C-level executives across the globe. Only 27 percent of executives surveyed considered themselves highly agile.  “In fact, culture emerges as one of the biggest hurdles to adapting to higher levels of agility, with 50 percent of respondents calling it challenging. In this light, it is troubling that only a quarter of all executives find their cultures to be strong enablers of agility.”

Below are four steps for the C-suite to drive culture change towards greater agility. These are the steps that Walmart and other large companies successfully used:

  1. Start small – For large organizations, start by using a small piecemeal approach. By creating small pockets of cultural change, you will have more success scaling. Structure small teams that are empowered and autonomous. Your odds of transformation success increase even more if you have people who will embrace agile values. Enable them to make decisions, and get out of their way. Most of all let them have fun!
  2. Teach your leaders – Management needs to learn a new way of doing things. Agility is about empowering and coaching teams. Command and control needs to go to the wayside. This is a mindset change for management that is so critical for success. Teach management to let go of control. If they don’t, it will be an absolute killer to agility.
  3. Set expectations – The Company needs to be clear about expectations for a new way of working and expect some attrition. Agile is not for everyone, and it’s best to be up front with people. If anyone wants to move on and not be part of an agile culture, that’s fine. Be clear and set expectations up front.
  4. Invest in training – You have to invest in the training so people can learn how to work in an agile environment. The key is driving out fear so smaller teams feel safe making decisions on their own. Sending people to a two day course is helpful, but not enough. Embed training and learning as part of the culture that is ongoing. Create practice groups and promote learning.

Whether you are a small company or a large enterprise, agility is the key to survival. The C-suite has a responsibility to engage and promote agility. With their efforts, driving culture change can be accomplished. If you need a partner to help with Agile transformation or training, reach out to us at MacIsaac Consulting. Our certified Agile experts can help in the areas of Scrum, SAFe, Kanban or overall Agile executive training. 

MacIsaac Consulting is proud to be a WBENC and MBE certified business. 

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is a principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an Agile Delivery Consultant and IT Project/Program Manager. Follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or visit Mike’s blog.

Leadership Is About Enjoying The Success Of Others


I don’t know about you, but I love the feeling I get when I’m able to help someone.  This is especially true in the workplace. Recently I provided an opportunity for someone to give a presentation.  After some resistance, he proceeded and did a great job! Afterward, I gave him well deserved recognition. I also sang his praises to the rest of the leadership team.

Leadership is about helping others and empowering them to lead. It’s also about enjoying the success of other people.

Unfortunately, sometimes people get put into “leadership” positions, when they shouldn’t. Some people don’t enjoy helping others, or seeing others succeed.  That’s okay. This doesn’t make them a bad person, but it does mean they aren’t leaders. If you’ve ever experienced working for someone who never praised you for a good job, you know how terrible it is. Most people, more than anything, want to feel appreciated.

It’s ironic but by helping others, we help ourselves. If you think about the great leaders you admire, they all have something in common. They surrounded themselves with good people, and they empowered them. Steve Jobs once said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

In your role at work, regardless of your job title, ask yourself, am I helping others? Am I helping to develop and empower people, and am I enjoying their success? If the answer is no, it may be time to reevaluate whether you are in the right role. Or, you may need to realign your core values and priorities.

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an Agile Delivery Consultant and IT Project/Program Manager. Follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.

Leadership Is About Owning Up To Your Mistakes

Elon Musk, the tech billionaire behind Tesla and SpaceX, recently made a huge mistake. When his plan to help a boys soccer team trapped in a cave in Thailand (all were eventually rescued) using a submarine failed, he lashed out in irritation. Musk’s actions of getting into a feud with one of the rescuers and calling him a “pedo” (short for Pedafile) was awful. It appeared Musk was more concerned about the spotlight than the trapped boys.

After the severity of the damage of his actions took hold, Musk did the right thing. He tweeted an apology to the rescuer he insulted, and he took all the blame. I remember reading Musk’s apology tweet and thinking, this was the best thing he could do. He messed up, and he’s taking accountability.

The mishap Musk got himself into is a great reminder that leadership is about owning up to your mistakes. I’m sure Musk’s intentions were good, but when things didn’t work out his way, his frustration got the best of him.

If you are in a position of leadership, you will make some mistakes. When they happen, don’t pass blame or make excuses. Instead, show vulnerability and accountability by owning up to your mistake. Not only will it help defuse the situation, it also provides a great example for those you are leading. We are all human, and none of us are perfect.


About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an Agile Delivery Consultant and IT Project/Program Manager. Follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.


You Don’t Need A Great Idea To Start A Company

Most of us at some point think about starting a company. We fantasize about what that might look like, then fear usually kicks in and we go on with our lives. We have this misbelief that if only we had a brilliant idea, then we could start a company. We watch shows like Shark Tank and we get the impression that great companies only start by a great product idea and the backing of large investments.

In reality, most great companies do not start out with a large capital investment, or a great product idea.

In the book Built to Last, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras summarized their results after studying the habits of visionary companies (companies that lasted). Collins and Porras compared the habits of similar companies that didn’t do as well over time, with the habits of visionary companies. One theme they found was that most of the visionary companies didn’t have a great idea in mind when they first started.

The notion that founders must have a “Great Product Idea” to start a successful company is a myth.

Collins and Porras actually found that waiting for a great idea may be a bad thing, because it prevents people from starting companies. A central theme of visionary companies was that they focused not on single product or idea. These companies believe the greatest creation was the company itself.

The following is a short excerpt from Bill Hewlett, co-founder of Hewlett-Packard, one of the most successful information technology companies in the world:  “When I talk to business schools occasionally, the professor of management is devastated when I say that we didn’t have any plans when we started-we were just opportunistic. We did anything that would bring in a nickel. Here we were, with about $500 in capital, trying whatever someone thought we might be able to do”.



Hewlett-Packard Company Archives, “An interview with Bill Hewlett,” 1987

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant forMacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. You can follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog

Here’s a simple way to vastly improve employee satisfaction

Employee Satisfaction

What do you think would give your employees more satisfaction? Better pay? Better office? A more prestigious position with more authority? For sure these things could improve their satisfaction, but would it last?

We are seeing more employees dissatisfied with their jobs. In Gallops latest state of the American Work force report, 51% of employees reported they are not engaged at work. These employees are looking for a new job or looking for openings. US workers are confident and ready to leave.

A big reason employees don’t feel satisfied is because they don’t feel appreciated. Gallop reported that only 3 in 10 employees strongly agree that in the last 7 days they have received recognition or praise for doing good work. According to the Gallup study, employees report that the most meaningful recognition comes from their manager.

I was reminded by my friend the other day just how important recognition is. She told me how she made major contributions to a technology project. She worked hard to ensure the project delivered on time. After the project was over, the managers handed out thank you cards to those who worked on the project. The problem? They somehow neglected to give my friend a thank you card. To say she was upset would be a major understatement.

It’s funny, some of the basic lessons we learn when we’re toddlers about human nature, we lose sight of as adults. When we were kids and we did something good, our parents and teachers gave us positive reinforcement. They would tell us how happy they were with what we did, and it made us feel great. Not only did it make us feel great, but it motivated us to continue to improve upon the positive behavior. The result was an emotional connection that fostered positive behavior and positive feelings.

Here’s my advice to managers, or anyone who wants to improve an employee’s satisfaction, its really simple. First, try to slow down. We are all so busy and distracted that we become overwhelmed and lose sight of what’s important. Start to work on your self-awareness and mindfulness.  Once you’re able to slow down and see the bigger picture around you, you will start to see the good work of others.

Once you realize an employee has done a good job, let them know personally how much you appreciate their efforts. Simple, right?

Yes, it may be true that not all people are motivated by intrinsic factors. Some people for example would be horrified if they were recognized in front of a crowd. Others may love the spotlight. When I refer to recognition, I’m talking about thanking someone in person for a job well done.  Email is good too, but there’s something about that in person recognition that really enriches employee satisfaction.

So, go ahead and start providing personal recognition to your employees who deserve it. We can’t afford to have our good employees dissatisfied and unmotivated. Remember, we all have an inner need to feel appreciated.


About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. You can follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.





Following spiritual and philosophical leadership principles

leadship principles

Since moving to Minnesota in 2005, I’ve had the pleasure of consulting for different companies within the Twin Cities. One of those companies is Best Buy. In a recent article, Meet The Man Best Buy Hired To Take On Amazon, Best Buy’s CEO Hubert July describes how his leadership is based on spiritual principles.

Hubert spent time with the monks of St John and he learned to practice spiritual exercises of the Jesuit, Ignatius of Loyola. When asked about his leadership at Best Buy, Hubert said “There’s a deep philosophical and spiritual underpinning to all this.”

I was aware of the great job Hubert has done at Best Buy, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn his leadership was based on spiritual and philosophical principles.

This all  got me thinking about leadership and my own beliefs. I’m an alum of Bethel University, a Christian school in Minnesota. At Bethel, they tied spirituality and faith into all their leadership courses. Yet, I find it’s easy to lose sight of my core values and beliefs when I’m in the throes of the daily grind. Those who work in IT like myself I’m sure can relate, where complex problems and tight deadlines are the norm.

When life gets crazy, spirituality helps put things in perspective. To me, spirituality means connecting with a power outside of myself. By having faith, not only can I then experience peace, I can also help others.

There’s a great amount of relief knowing that if I get out of my own way and stick to my core values, things will be okay. It’s a belief and a feeling that no matter what’s going on around me, everything is alright.

The Jesuit priest Anthony De Mello, elegantly stated: “All mystics — Catholic, Christian, non-Christian, no matter what their theology, no matter what their religion — are unanimous on one thing: that all is well”.

What greater gift is there than a sense of peace knowing that all is well? No amount of money can buy this gift, but it is available to us if we are willing to put in some work.

No matter what your religion or belief system is, improving your spiritual condition requires work. We should devote time to improving our spiritual condition, what ever that may look like for you. By tapping into spirituality, we can then put our core values at the forefront of our leadership.

In summary, I agree with Hubert,  there is a deep philosophical and spiritual underpinning to all this. Through spiritual principles, we can maximize our leadership potential. In the end, it may be all about providing service to others, whether that be our employees, customers, or family.


About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the president and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. You can follow Mike on Twitter @MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.



12 Ways Management Can Empower Teams And Create Agility

With the advance of technology and globalization, organizations today must have agility. It doesn’t matter the industry, companies need to be able to adapt to change. As a consultant, I’ve seen this need first hand throughout the tech, retail, and financial industries.

Gone are the days when different departments within a company worked in silos. Companies who still do this, and use a static organization structure, will struggle to survive. They will fall to the competitive advantage of the agile organization.

The problems faced by companies today are too complex to not be agile.  The pressure put on from external forces demand a new way of thinking and collaborating.

One way to create agility is through the use of decentralized cross-functional teams (CFTs).  A CFT is a team made up of people from different functional areas within the company. These experts work together to achieve a common goal. Over time the team develops synergy, and becomes high performing. Team synergy vastly exceeds the productivity of individual efforts.

When management empowers CFTs to make decisions and self-organize, the teams move fast, really fast. Team autonomy and empowerment promotes an atmosphere of trust, creativity, and worker satisfaction.

One of the greatest benefits of empowered CFTs is their ability to manage chaos. This phenomenon is counter intuitive to our natural reaction to manage chaos. Most of what we learn in business school aligns with the carrot and stick style of management. The more things get out of control, the more we tighten up our grip on the team. As managers, we have to let go of this notion of command and control. We can empower teams while still holding them accountable.

In a recent HBR article, Michael Mankins and Eric Garton describe how Spotify balances employee autonomy and accountability. They write “Companies that take the approach of empowering autonomous teams must find ways to ensure that coordination and connectivity happen among those teams without relying on controlling managers. Again, it’s a matter of managerial art as well as science to achieve alignment without excessive control.”

If you assemble a CFT with people new to such an environment, there will be a learning curve. You can’t expect people to self-organize and make decisions when they are used to being controlled.  The key is for CFTs and management to learn a new way of thinking, but this takes time.

Ken Schwaber, who formed the Agile Scrum framework along with Jeff Sutherland, writes “A team requires concrete experience before it can truly understand how to manage itself and take the responsibility and authority for planning and conducting its own activities.”

Below are 12 principles that can help management develop high performing cross-functional teams:

  1. Create stable cross-functional teams – Creating stable CFTs, dedicated to long-term goals, is necessary for high performance, quality and innovation. To do this you must dedicate resources and provide constant training. Each team member must have knowledge and expertise in a certain functional area. Changing team resources and not allocating for long-term planning is a killer to team performance.
  2. Provide a clear and compelling purpose – People suffer when they lack purpose. It is the responsibility of management to provide a purpose. People need a purpose because it creates intrinsic motivation. If employees are assigned tasks that have no meaning to them, they will lack motivation. Management should communicate how the goals of the team align with the long-term goals of the company.
  3. Protect the teams – Run interference and protect CFTs from distractions and skeptics. Management must be committed to the overall purpose of the organization and the CFT. There are always skeptics and people who are resistant to change. It is well advised for management to not include these types on change efforts and new CFTs. Skeptics will cause more harm than good. Staff CFTs with people with positive attitudes who will champion the goals of the team and organization.
  4. Give teams the help they ask for – With the high performing CFT model, managers don’t tell the team how to do their job. Instead, the teams tell management what they need to be successful. It is the job of management to listen to these requests and do their best to provide the teams with the help they ask for. Again, just because management is not telling teams what to do, it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t hold teams accountable.
  5. Empower teams to make decisions – Management can hold teams accountable for results, but they need to empower teams to make decisions. The decentralization of authority allows teams and organizations to produce results fast while responding to change. Management is still responsible for telling teams what needs to be done, but the teams are responsible for how it will be done.
  6. Allow mistakes to be made – Encourage teams to accomplish stretch goals, but do not punish if everything is not achieved. It’s important for management to help drive out fear. When employees are afraid of being punished for mistakes, it kills innovation. The important thing is learning from mistakes. Teams should continually take inventory on how they can improve.
  7. Use information radiators – On CFTs, everyone needs to see what’s going on and what needs to be done. Having a board that displays visual controls enables and promotes teams to self-direct. Information radiators also let management and outside stakeholders view how the team is doing and how much work is in progress.
  8. Deliver as fast as possible – Fast product delivery results in increased business flexibility and happy customers. Short value streams eliminate waste and they allow decisions to be delayed. Management should promote the idea of delivering valuable products fast. Often time’s people think that you can’t deliver fast without compromising quality. This is not the case when you build quality and integrity into product development. The fast delivery system does not compromise on quality; in fact it improves quality because consumers get the product faster. This enables consumers to provide feedback sooner which can go back into the design of the product, improving quality.
  9. Analyze and improve throughput – The best way to optimize an organization is to focus on throughput. The theory of constraints teaches us to find bottlenecks in the system and fix them. Teams should continue analyzing the system, identifying bottlenecks, and removing them. When teams focus on improving non bottleneck areas of the system, it doesn’t help improve throughput. Following the theory of constraints principle, teams can deliver fast.
  10. Promote quality built into products – In Edward Deming’s book “Out of the Crisis” he writes “Quality comes not from inspection but from improvement of the production process. Inspection, scrap, downgrading and rework are not corrective action on the process”. This means for software development, we need to get away from this notion that QA is this separate process that happens after software development. We should not be inspecting quality into the software through QA. Instead, QA should be happening as part of software development through the use of test driven development and automation. This enables quality to be built up front, instead of through inspection.
  11. Improve quality by learning from the consumer – In the Agile software development “Scrum” we do product reviews continually with the consumer. This same principle can be implemented throughout the organization. The goal is to feed the consumer reactions and feedback back into the design of the product to improve quality.
  12. Provide servant leadership – In Scrum, the Scrum Master acts a servant leader. The Scrum Master job is to remove impediments and help the team. This servant leadership practice is a great example for management to emulate. By supporting and helping teams, you foster at atmosphere of empowerment and trust.

For many organizations, the points I listed may be a significant change from their current reality. It’s not easy to put in place all these changes. Even for the modern agile company, agility is an ongoing learning process. If your organization needs guidance, at MacIsaac Consulting we are here to help. From advising leadership, to providing resources, we can guide you on your agile transformation journey.

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the president and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.


Deming, E. (1982). Out Of The Crisis. Cambridge, MA: MIT.

Mankins, M & Garton, E (2017). How Spotify Balances Employee Autonomy And Accountability.

Poppendieck, M. (2003). Lean Software Development. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

Schwaber, K. (2004). Agile Project Management With Scrum. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Press.

Adapting to change, the Agile organization

Organizations today must be Agile to deal with the rapid pace of change due to globalization and technology. In software development, we have seen how well cross functional Agile teams can deliver value.

Companies that adopt this same level of agility across their enterprise will be well served. I’m not talking about scaled Agile or some framework. I’m talking about organizations that can change and adapt. They are like clay instead of rocks. Agility provides a level of flexibility and adaptability that gives them a competitive advantage.

Below is a short talk from John Kotter in which he discusses the differences between the network and the hierarchy, and how they can coexist. In my view, organizational structures of the future will look less like hierarchies, and more like solar systems (networks).

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.


How the lakes of Minneapolis helped me develop leadership

I took this photo of Lake Harriet in November 2010

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” – Albert Einstein

In 2005 I hopped on a plan in Newark and left my home state of New Jersey. I left the land of Bon Jovi and “the Jersey Shore” behind and relocated to Minneapolis Minnesota. I was 28 years old and at a crossroads in my life. I needed a change, so I moved to a city I knew nothing about other than the fact that I knew Prince (RIP to my favorite artist) was from there. I also heard the winter temperatures dropped to some crazy cold level.

In first year living in the twin cities, anxiety consumed me. The move to Minneapolis was the biggest life change I had ever made.

I got around town via bus and I lived in a small apartment next to Lake Calhoun. Lake Calhoun is one of the many gorgeous lakes in Minneapolis. This is me at lake Calhoun back then.

Ever since my arrival to Minneapolis the lakes drew me in. We had lakes in New Jersey, but not like these. Calhoun is at least 3 miles around and connects to a chain of other lakes. Beautiful homes and paths for cycling or jogging/walking surround the lakes.

When I would ride the bus home at night, I felt a sense of calmness when the lake came into view shortly before my stop. Whenever I got the chance, I would take walks by the lake. I realized the walks help to ease my anxiety and clear my mind.

I was also fortunate back then to have a 5th floor apartment , albeit small and old, that had an awesome view of the lake. My favorite pastime was sitting on my couch enjoying the lake view while having coffee (often playing my acoustic as well).

The lake brought me a sense of calmness and joy. Today, 12 years later, I still live in Minnesota. Now 40 and married with two daughters, we live out in the burbs but still spend time by the lakes of Minneapolis.

The below pictures are of my daughters Emma (4 yrs old) and Allison (4 months old) enjoying Lake Harriet. My family is my greatest joy 🙂

So now that you know how much I and my family enjoy the lakes, what does this all have to do with leadership? This blog post was supposed to be about how the lakes helped me develop leadership right?

Spending time by the lake helped me improve my self-awareness through the practice of mindfulness.

Self-awareness is the gold standard for leadership. It is the foundation of emotional intelligence.

You see, what I didn’t understand (but could feel) back when I was 28 was that my walks by the lake helped to quiet my mind. The outside noise and distractions of the daily rat race fueled my thoughts, and most of my thoughts I could do without.

The walks by the lake helped to subside the noise so I could check my thoughts and feelings. It allowed me to become more present in the moment and decompress from stress or anxiety.

By improving my self-awareness through my lake walks I also improved my leadership. This affected me, my family, and my work. It enabled me to put things in perspective.

Leadership is not only about leading others, it’s also about leading ourselves. By leading ourself we continue to move towards a higher plane of existence based on our core values.

How do we practice mindfulness to develop self-awareness?

When most think of mindfulness, they think of meditation. Practicing mindfulness though doesn’t mean you have to sit with your legs crossed and your arms in the air. We are all different and for me, the walks by the lake worked well. For you it might be something different like traditional meditation. Or it could be an activity like painting. Only you can decide what works best to help you become more present and self-aware.

There’s no shortage of materials available to learn how to practice mindfulness. If you want to learn more, two of my favorite authors on self-awareness are Daniel Goleman and Bill George. What I like about them is that they relate the importance of self-awareness to leadership.

One thing’s for sure, in today’s society we could all benefit from slowing down and becoming more present and self-aware. This is especially true in the US where we are so politically divided and stressed. Combine this fact with the distraction of social media and the internet and it’s easy to become lost in the vortex of noise.

We can’t lose focus of what’s important in life. Our family, our health, and helping others is what’s important.

PS – If this is a topic you enjoy I highly recommend watching Innsaei which is available on Netflix. It’s about getting in touch with intuition and not relying only on rational thought.

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.


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