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Are you an Agile Zealot?

Updated: Jul 15, 2021

Have you ever worked with someone so fanatical about a framework that they seemed oblivious to reason? They got upset whenever anyone tried to question the framework or process? Did it almost seem like they were brainwashed? They view the world as people who “get it” and people who “don’t get it”.

These people are Zealots. They’ve seen the light and they think everyone else should see it instantly too. Oh did I mention, I can be like that sometimes too? I think we all have a little Zealotism in us.

Zealot: a person who is fanatical and uncompromising in pursuit of their religious, political, or other ideals.

A big failure mode Agilists working with Executives happens when we show up as Zealots. Like evangelists sent to save the organization from the end of the world. The problem is that it turns people off immediately. Especially executives.

Zealots lose credibility. If you are brainwashed, I can’t trust you. If Agile is your religion, I don’t know if you are preaching the gospel or trying to help solve my business problem. Are you really weighing all options? Are you able to look at things objectively? When you are seen as a Zealot, no one can be sure.

Zealots are emotionally charged. Passion is a beautiful thing. I am passionate about making workplaces more humane, and Agile is a great way to do that. But sometimes that passion can block listening and empathy. I encourage people to allow for emotion in the workplace. Emotions are a great source of information. When someone is so emotional that they can’t be reasoned with, they aren’t collaborative, and they lose their power.

Fixed mindset. Agilists love to talk about Carol Dweck’s growth vs fixed mindset. No one ever learns this concept and says “hey I have a fixed mindset!”. Of course, we all have a growth mindset, right? Isn’t it ironic then that we seem to have a fixed mindset about changing mindsets? Zealots have a fixed mindset, “Agile is the best and if you don’t get it, you are stupid.” No one says those words of course, but it’s implied.

Don’t fix me. Your audience has likely been running a successful business for years. Now you’re coming in to tell them they are doing it all wrong? That doesn’t play well. Look for specific challenges that Lean-Agile practices can help with, and start there.

And even when they ‘get it’...they don’t want you. When a Zealot preaches to an executive, sometimes the executive says “Yes! I love it!”, but they won’t come to you to implement it. Why not? Because they know you can’t bring people along, you can’t operationalize it.

Get out of the Agile echo chamber. There are more Agile conferences this year than I’ve ever seen before, and new ones keep popping up. It’s nice to talk to like-minded people. It’s comforting. But you need to get out and talk to people that disagree with you. There are no more answers out there, go collaborate and craft your own solutions!

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