How to spot a rogue Agile Silverback?

  • Here is a top ten list on how to spot a rogue Agile Silverback.  First, my apologies to the gorillas for using the Silverback metaphor to describe alpha male Agile thought leaders. Silverbacks are the strong, dominant troop leaders commanding the troop’s attention, making all the decisions, mediating conflicts, determining the movements of the group, leading the others to feeding sites and taking responsibility for the safety and well-being of the troop.
  • Derek W. Wade, a fellow Agilist, recently shared the term “Agile Silverback” with me.  He first heard the term at the 2007 Scrum Gathering, where he heard it to mean a venerable and respected member of the Agile community.  However, he also told me that in 2009 he was getting sick of the posturing he had observed, recalled the “Silverback” term, and thought of the dark side of gorillas:  fighting for dominance.  He admits that since then, he has used “Agile Silverback” to mean Agile thought leaders who fight for dominance.  I added the word rogue to Agile Silverback for clarification in recognition that, thankfully, not all Silverbacks behave badly.

This “how to spot a rogue Agile Silverback” list emerged from spontaneous conversations at numerous Agile events.  I cannot claim credit for the observations, the truth is, the community helped to create it adding that extra oomph by sharing their direct or indirect personal experiences.  Thank you all for the crowd sourced contributions.

You have spotted a rogue Agile Silverback when:

10)  He complains that the meeting agenda interferes with his golf playing, gym going and nap-taking after he had already committed to attend the meeting.

09)  He arrives fashionably late and leaves early because he has places to go and people waiting to meet him.

08)  He almost never offers to pay for his share of food and drinks because he considers it is just your professional courtesy since you are eating and drinking with him or worse letting you fetch his lunch, drink, etc.

07)  He tends to limit his conversations with you unless you are some CEO, CTO or Agile Coach of a Fortune 1000 company to whom he wants to connect to sell his services appealing to his Agile Silverback status.

06)  His group of fawning sycophants outnumbers his actual number of friends

05)  The mention of his name invokes comments like, “I don’t like him”, “You just have to take him for what he is”, “Careful, he can be such an asshole”, “He’s such a diva” , “He is so high maintenance” and the list goes on.

04)  He is impatient with you because he is suspicious you want something from him.

03)  He is oblivious he is a rogue Agile Silverback because an ever revolving entourage of sycophants continually provides validation for his ego.

02)  His  slide deck is overused except for provocative titles in various guises for relevancy.

01)  He starts using his name as a noun, verb, adverb, and or adjective or talks about himself in the third person.

If you think this blog is describing you, you are on your way to self awareness or at least  recognizing the fact that you have not been behaving like a leader deserving of veneration and respect at all.  Stop what you are doing and reflect, and perhaps think about improving the way you treat people who have looked up to you and respect you as the thought leader you are.  The worst rogue Agile Silverbacks are those who are oblivious.  If your friends and colleagues have been hinting you are on your way to being a rogue Agile Silverback, inspect and adopt better behavior before falling into the abyss of smugness.

If you are at the receiving end of a rogue Agile Silverback behavior, don’t enable and accept it as the norm.  Do not submit to a rogue Agile Silverback, allowing him to make you feel small and bad.  In our Agile community, we operate on the premise of continuous improvement and value driven behavior.  Let’s stop traipsing gingerly around these rogue Agile Silverbacks, condoning their obnoxious, disrespectful attitudes.  I want an Agile community that is not led and represented by some rotten apples in the form of  rogue Agile Silverbacks.  That said, I am not without gratitude for their contributions to Agile, I just thought that the elitism suggested here is just not an Agile philosophy that we want to advocate, practice and tolerate.  This is our community and we should not put up with bad behavior.  Stop putting rogue Agile Silverbacks on pedestals and start making them accountable for their behavior.  Consider this a call or more politely, a request to rogue Agile Silverbacks to call off their old antics.

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