Transformational leadership towards DevOps

January 24, 2017


Transformational leadership has been written and researched about for a long time. Many wonder why some organisations successfully handle change projects while others put in great amounts of time without getting results. John Kotter wrote in his book Leading Change (first published in 1996) that around 70% of all change projects fail. 

Whether 70% failure rate is correct or not is up for discussion, but one thing remains certain – managing successful change initiatives is not an easy task. Before you start your journey towards DevOps, you must understand the challenges ahead in order to succeed. You will need to plan ahead, communicate efficiently, create a cultural shift and perhaps most importantly think about the way you act as a leader.

Why you shoud be aware of the risk

DevOps is more important than ever. Several experts mean that DevOps is a necessity for software development and that companies who adapt DevOps before their competitors have a bigger chance at long term success. Leaders simply need to be able to adapt to changes just as quickly as they happen. Face it – changes can happen any day. Technological breakthroughs, user feedback, global economi, market changes or something else is just around the corner.

The change is necessary, but we also know from before that managing change initiatives is tough and have a high risk of complete failure. As DevOps is full of potential benefits, leaders in organisations who intend to move towards DevOps need to understand this situation and do everything they can to successfully adapt DevOps.

DevOps and change

As DevOps more often than not requires a change within many different departments, it also increases in complexity compared to other change projects and will by extension have a higher risk of failure. In order to successfully transform your business, you will need cooperation between departments and a change in company culture, which many considers to be one of the toughest changes to perform. However, you as a leader are in a great position to influence that transformation’s success rate.

The big question

The big question for you as a DevOps leader then becomes: 

With everything pointing towards a difficult transformation towards DevOps, how can I tilt the odds in my favour?

To answer that question, we first need to understand the reasons why the majority of change initiatives fail. What makes these types of projects more difficult than others? There are many reasons, like too high cost, inefficient communication and unclear goal vision.

However, research shows that one of the most common reasons behind failed transformations is how individuals in the organisations react to the change initiative. Common problems with individuals include resistance to change, low engagement and a lack of readiness.

Transformational leadership

If there is one thing research has shown us regarding leadership in transformation, it’s that how the leader act matters. To specifically involve and engage personnel has a great influence on how the transformation is being received. A lot points towards transformational leadership being one of the keys to success.

In their book Improving Organizational Effectiveness Through Transformational Leadershipauthors Bruce Avolio and Bernard Bass describes the four most common traits that separates the transformational leaders from the rest:

  • Inspirational motivation: The ability to inspire and motivate colleagues
  • Idealized influence: Through honesty and an open attitude be a role model for others in the organisation
  • Individualized consideration: To see every coworker as an individual in order to respond to individual needs, build trust and show consideration
  • Intellectual stimulation: Being able to stimulate others around them on an intellectual level in order to promote creativity, innovation and avoiding group think

Several studies show that transformational leadership has a significant effect on the success rate of the change initiative. This means that in order to achieve a successful transformation towards DevOps you need to consider what type of leadership to utilize. As a leader, you are in a prime position to influence your coworkers and their interest in the change project. There are no excuses – no matter what type of change you want to create.

Transformational leadership and motivation

Work towards engaging, motivating and involving your coworkers in the change towards DevOps. If you manage to do so, your chances of successfully transforming your business increases dramatically. By utilizing a transformational leadership style and working towards inrpirational motivation, idealized influence, individualized consideration and intellectual stimulation, you will notice a clear difference in how your change initiatives are being received.

How do you see leadership and the demands that DevOps put on you as a leader? Have you had any experiences of transformational leaderhsip in the workplace? Let us know in the comments below!