ACGW—The Importance of Self Mastery

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ACGW—The Importance of Self Mastery

I’ll get right down to it. I think the Agile Coaching Growth Wheel figure needs to be updated. Not in a drastic way, but more to emphasize the importance of Self Mastery in all aspects of an Agile Coaches daily journey in skills and competency development. 

This post is inspired by one that Joel Bancroft-Connors wrote about the Agile Coaching Growth Wheel on LinkedIn and several replies from Huy Nguyen. Here’s the first—

As I’ve said before, the self-mastery thing in the middle can sometimes dwarf the rest. There’s a lot more that goes into that little circle – and it’s easier said than done. Everything gets limited by the person embodying the change – especially if they’ve never dealt with their own issues before.
Good luck with that. And I’m being serious.

I’m reacting to Huy’s point about the importance of, size of, and understanding of self-mastery in the context of the Wheel. He’s right, self-mastery is the most important, least understood, and hardest to navigate competency.

When mentoring fellow agile coaches, I always start with exploring their self-mastery. And, it’s not self-mastery in a vacuum or as an independent competency, but instead related to each of the Wheels’ other competencies.

But the conversation gets even better. In another comment dialogue, Huy and Joel Bancroft-Connors go deeper, exploring self-mastery and the implication of context, skill, and skill usage—

From Joel—

Huy Nguyen, yes, the Self-Mastery hub has been a key part of the Wheel. Lyssa herself commented on this and applauded it as something she and Michael never explicitly spoke about in their model, even though they implicitly supported it.

From Huy—

Joel Bancroft-Connors well it’s understandable Lyssa likes it since you guys built it on the x-wing. It’s useful in frame breaking for new coaches the breadth in which they need to understand different subjects to be good with coaching, but here’s my beef with it: it’s a mind map – but mind maps really aren’t maps. The other side is that it is obviously coach centric. That answers the “so what” bit. Now what?
So here’s some criticism:
My problem is that it doesn’t guide the coach into understanding which stance/skill/capability depending on the situation. I’ve been working on an alternate view and here’s big a hint: you need to view all of these categories from the customers perspective. Why would they need each of these things and when? It lacks the context in which one bears each of the skills.
It is one thing to describe the skills involved, it’s a whole other to build a meta-skill to have the wisdom to know when to apply what. And that is exactly what wisdom is: knowing when to apply particular knowledge and how that applied knowledge affects not on the client but also their environment. I get that it wasn’t designed to do that, in which case I will argue that it’s not all that valuable as it could be.

Huy Continued…

And then back to the self-mastery piece: more and more creating wisdom is what we need in the age of VUCA. A lack of self-mastery keeps us from grasping and gripping different views because we’re fixated on a certain worldview.
As I’ve pointed out to
Marcelo Lopez, AKT, CST … there are lots of people with lots of different fixations and traumas that run around unaddressed. What we end up with is a lot of things in the name of Agile that get inflicted on lots of people.
If 90% of the coaches out there spent hard time on working on their listening skills, things would be far, far different. Instead, we get boatloads of people and their hot takes. Talking instead of listening.

A final Joel reply—

Huy Nguyen, you’re right, the Wheel doesn’t tell you how to use the skills. It defines Agile leadership. It tells you what skills are needed. It also gives guidance on how to improve.
And then it can be a resource to build on. For example, I’ve been using it create learning journeys to different sub-classes of Agile leadership.

A final Huy reply—

Joel Bancroft-Connors thank you. That’s the main part of my criticism. Many of the complexity experts we usually follow like to remind us of being wary of context free solutions. So, to make the wheel useful, we have to provide the context in which and how much of these skills gets applied. Even if we’re doing something basic like treating this as a persona and going through the value prop, teaching Agile leadership would be deeply dependent on typical Org contexts (hence the value of a persona). That my context often guides me in the things I need to focus my learning on and I get to apply the learning immediately or directly. Also, why coaching matters but I don’t believe most coaches work in this way.
What you end up with is a view of the problem in a very flat or two-dimensional perspective.
And on that train of thought I think this is my problem with all the Agile coaching certification programs I’ve seen or even participated (including the defunct ACI). All were mostly context free and did little in terms of helping students analyze context.


First, I want to acknowledge that I’m 100% in alignment with Huy’s thoughts. The following big ideas stood out for me from the dialogue—

Big Idea #1 – Self Mastery dwarfs the other competencies

It’s all about developing your self-mastery. Not only as a separate competency that is continuously grown but as a root or anchor for each of the other competencies. In fact, I think each competency has its own self-mastery attributes and focus points.

Big Idea #2 – Context matters

Agile Coaches need skills, wisdom, and experience to sense the client context and adapt their coaching accordingly. Much of this is acquiring enough broad and deep applicable knowledge and experience to effectively sense and respond to each context.

Big Idea #3 – Building the situational awareness Meta-Skill

As part of growing your self-mastery, there is an imperative to develop your sensing and situational awareness skills so that you can, using one of my metaphors, effectively dance with your clients. Sensing, in this case, is mainly focused on honing your observational and reflective skills.

Big Idea #4 – Work on our listening skills

Listening to the client builds empathy, understanding, trust, and situational awareness. While this doesn’t make the point entirely—meeting them where they are is a part of effective listening. And listening, in this sense, is deep or active listening. Even to what’s said and unsaid and to what’s done and not done.

Big Idea #5 – Don’t inflict our “agile traumas” on our clients

As Huy said— there are lots of people with lots of different fixations and traumas that run around unaddressed. What we end up with is a lot of things in the name of Agile that get inflicted on lots of people.” Explore these traumas with your personal coach(s) to better understand them and find better coping strategies.

I’ve been noodling on the emphasis and impact of self-mastery in my Agile Coaching for the last couple of years. As Huy points out, it’s not simply having the skills or competencies by the situational awareness (wisdom) to know when to appropriately bring everything you have in your experience-box to bear for the good of your client’s agenda.

This is not something you learn in a class. This is something you learn by being mentored and coached and by fairly relentless practice (doing) and reflection.

Finally, I want to thank Joel, Huy, and everyone who contributed to this beautiful learning thread. Clearly, you all inspired me.

Stay agile my friends,


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