Leadership Lessons to Bolster Your Software Team: An Interview with Selena Delesie


In this interview, visionary speaker Selena Delesie explains how successful teams embrace specific principles, including listening deeply, believing people truly matter, having an addiction to learning, serving others, flowing through change, moving through fear, and following joy.

Jennifer Bonine: Welcome back, and we are here with Selena. Selena, thanks for joining us today.

Selena Delesie: Thanks so much for having me.

Jennifer Bonine: Well, I'm sure there was a lot of folks in the virtual sessions that saw your keynote this morning on leadership, and so I wanted to give them kind of the behind-the-scenes insight into that. If you could talk a little bit about ... because keynotes, if not everyone knows, they're picked far in advance of the event.

Selena Delesie: Yes, yes.

Jennifer Bonine: What I think is so interesting, it's this keynote probably was picked eighteen months ago or a year ago.

Selena Delesie: Yeah, this was picked in January. Lee reached out to me then and asked me to give this talk on leadership, which is just great because that's what I love to talk about, it's that and transformation.

Jennifer Bonine: Very cool. They're picked in advance and with some kind of vision or what people want to speak about. Maybe give some people, the people watching, insight into how you came up with this keynote and your content, and what you're passionate about around that, so they have that kind of insight.

Selena Delesie: Sure. The work that I do when I'm going in to coach or train an organization, so I do agile and leadership coaching and training, the thing that I often see happen is that people are waiting for permission. They're waiting for permission to change things, to do things differently, whether it's a process or how they're engaging with each other or any technical or practical approaches to the work that they're doing. They're waiting for a leader to say, "It's okay to make these changes." Honestly a lot of these things are happening because this is what we've been trained to do for years, even from school, very, very young. We're used to waiting for permission.

The key is that we need people to step up and find a way to give themselves permission. That only happens from inside, inside of ourselves. The work that I do with people is helping them to find a space to give themselves permission to feel safe to do that, to feel safe to start working through their fears. That they do have valuable things to add into an organization and to help them to recognize that again.

All of that goes into this talk that I give and that I gave here this morning is, how do we really transform that? I can't give you more practical, technical skills that are going to give you that space. There's no more knowledge that you necessarily need to have in order to see things to be different in your organization. It all starts with each individual person. When you get a group of people together, who are all showing up that way, that's where the magic really starts to happen.

Jennifer Bonine: Hopefully you got a chance to see the keynote this morning, if you didn't I would encourage you to go back and watch that. What I think we find sometimes in technical fields or disciplines, is we focus a lot on our technical skills and keeping those current. Then, what we won't do is focus on the more soft skills and those other pieces around communication, leadership, change-management. In order to be successful, I've always felt it's important to focus on both and to practice both.

Selena Delesie: Absolutely.

Jennifer Bonine: I wonder when you're engaging with folks in your coaching practice and helping them with leadership, is it usually companies engaging you or is it individuals identifying that they have a need?

Selena Delesie: I usually have identified needs coming from individuals. I do mentor some people, a small number of people so I have time to work also, but I also do coaching with individuals. Thus far, most of the leadership coaching that I do in a company comes as part of the agile coaching that I'm offering. I'm coaching across the organization from the executives down to team level, in helping to spread that leadership across that whole department or whichever part of the group I'm working in.

Really, this all stems from my own experience. My background is technical, I went to school for computer programming and mathematics. I did the certification training early on and I gained more technical skills. I took more classes to learn more things but it wasn't helping me get a whole lot further ahead. I made smaller strides but in terms of my impact in the organization, it wasn't as impactful as I wanted it to be.

I realized that I had to really work on the soft skills, the personal skills sides and also fostering within myself, my own ability to recognize my own value, my own worth to gain more confidence, clarity, and how to communicate that message, how to connect with people. That's really, really led to a larger shift in my ability to influence and impact in any place.

Jennifer Bonine: That's important, I think, for those folks out there watching is again, focusing on both, not just the technical but the soft skills as well. The communication, the ability to influence, you mentioned that, that's really important too. Our ability to sell an idea and influence others to take that idea on and do something with it, not waiting. I think in organizations and teams now with self-directed teams with agile, it's about the team stepping up and not waiting for an external leader.

Selena Delesie: Right, but it's so often, agile teams are waiting for permission still.

Jennifer Bonine: "Can we do this? Can we do this?"

Selena Delesie: Do you know why? It's happening because they've been told what to do for so long. We haven't enabled their skill sets. We're like, "Okay, now you're self-organizing and self-managing and self-directing." They're like, "We don't know what that means."

Jennifer Bonine: Right, "We don't know what to do."

Selena Delesie: Leaders aren't actually shifting their behaviors to encourage that. We're not teaching the team members those skills so that they can do that.

Jennifer Bonine: It's great to have that coaching and that capability to know, "It is okay." It's shifting from like as you mentioned, what's learned behavior all along throughout our lives. Then what I've also seen, I want your opinion on this if you've seen this in organizations that are moving towards agile is, the leaders fall back into old habits as well where they're like, "Oh, the team's not stepping up so I'm just going to jump in and tell them what to do." Then it perpetuates that cycle of behavior happening.

Selena Delesie: Yes, and it's really hard to let go of that. I've been that manager who's been through that transition from, "I'm responsible for this department and this team and what they do and the outputs" into now, "I'm responsible for supporting this agile team and the collection of agile teams, and how do I really do that?" It's really hard to take a step back as a manger or a leader in any capacity because that's where your value is based in.

Jennifer Bonine: They have that, right? I hear that so often, that, "My value is leading this team and giving them guidance and direction." Understanding that shift is that supporting person and removing barriers and roadblocks and helping the team but you let them guide and you're not doing that.

Selena Delesie: Just allowing them to experiment and maybe fail.

Jennifer Bonine: It's okay.

Selena Delesie: It's totally okay, that's how they learn faster and how they'll be more resilient and self-sufficient along the way. It's a hard road sometimes to let go but it's necessary.

Jennifer Bonine: I've heard often, I wonder if you've seen this in organizations where it's not just the teams like you said, having to struggle with this change but it's the leaders themselves going, "Well, what's my value anymore? What am I going to do?" When I've talked to different leaders in organizations they're like, "Well, what's my role even anymore and do I have a role?" They still have a very important role, it's helping them understand it's important but it's different.

Selena Delesie: The difference lies in right now you're showing up to coach and to support and to help to remove the cultural barriers that will really allow these teams to thrive. Any other barriers or blocks around things that they need access to, to make the changes that they need or to do the technical work that they're there to do. Now, you get to show up to tackle even bigger problems, all the organizational stuff that maybe you thought was always getting in the way. Now you get to focus your energy on those areas collectively with other managers, which is pretty cool.

Jennifer Bonine: It is, if you embrace it, it can be a very neat transformation and change. The other thing that I've seen, I wonder from your perspective on executives. You mentioned working from the executive level down, is when we see agile go in, the teams may be good, the managers and leaders directly may be good but the senior executives are still in old patterns of behavior of saying, "When is this going to be done? Let's budget quarterly." They're in that old mentality of the waterfall version of a project and looking at how it's delivered. Have you seen that at all with executives and how do you help them with getting past?

Selena Delesie: Yes, I've seen it. I've seen it where the executives were really aligned in the space that I would hope that they would be in and the middle management was really struggling too. I've seen it both ways. I find it really comes down to connecting into what it is that they feel that they value at that time and translating the message into their language. That's really what's most important.

In one company that I have been coaching in, at the executive level down through the team, I was there to fix the team which really wasn't the case. It was everybody, everyone needed to expand and to shift how they were working. With the executives, it was translating the changes into language that they understood and also to align with they're saying, "Okay, we want our teams to be open and transparent," but they weren't being that.

I would coach or just suggest or plant seeds with them that how they can start to lead that by example and some ideas for how they could do that and to support them in doing that where they didn't feel like they were going to look stupid. That's what it really comes down to sometimes, especially the higher up we go in an organization, we want to have people to feel secure that we know what we're doing all the time. It's actually safer for the rest of the organization if sometimes you don't know what you're doing and you're experimenting and trying to-

Jennifer Bonine: Admitting that.

Selena Delesie: Admitting that and being open about that. That really makes a huge impact for the rest of the people in the organization, to be able to try and experiment too.

Jennifer Bonine: Absolutely. We're out of time, it goes so fast. Then if people want to contact you, Selena, about some of the things we've talked about, about coaching and agile and what you're doing to help teams because they may have some of those challenges, what's the best way for them to get in contact with you?

Selena Delesie: You can find me on LinkedIn. My name is Selena Delesie. I'm the only one in the world, so you can find me there, or reach me at [email protected].

Jennifer Bonine: Thank you.

Selena Delesie: Thank you so much.

SelenaSelena Delesie is a visionary speaker, coach, and trainer who inspires people to get “lit up” from within, radiate positive energy, and empower everyone around them to step into their greatness. A successful corporate manager, consultant, and coach, Selena brings fourteen years of experience across the technology, financial, agile, software development, and testing sectors. She bridges this experience with her training in several outside-the-box modalities to support people through lasting personal transformation. Selena's clients rave about her ability to help leaders break free from traditional business practices to engage the strengths and passions of their team, and produce a highly creative, productive, and vibrant workforce. Contact Selena at selenadelesie.com.

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