What Type of Agile Coach are You?

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What Type of Agile Coach are You?

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Michael de le Maza offered the following metaphor for agile coaches and coaching on LinkedIn in late 2021 that I’ve clearly been thinking about for a while…

Pebble agile coaches vs. Diamond agile coaches.

Pebbles are well rounded. Diamonds have facets.

If you go to a restaurant and they have Chinese food and Italian food what would you think? What if they had Opus One and Two-Buck Chuck?

You wouldn’t like that restaurant, right?

And yet many agile coaches pride themselves on being well-rounded. They coach Scrum and Kanban teams. They coach executives and individual contributors. They coach flow and culture. They coach marketing teams and software development teams.

These are pebble agile coaches. They are well-rounded.

Diamond agile coaches have facets. They specialize in one or two areas.

Think about the great agile coaches you know.

Are they pebbles or diamonds?

What do you want to be?

Michael, it almost sounds like I have two choices as an agile coach:

Become (or stay) a pebble and say yes to everything. Stay average, stay mediocre, stay “pebbly”. That being well-rounded is, in some fashion, bad or not good.
Become a diamond. Shine in a few areas. Be excellent in a few things. Say no to things when I don’t have the excellence or brilliance to meet the need.

I wonder if there is a sort of middle ground if you will and not polar or binary opposites? For example, can I become a cabochon? Can I be well-rounded AND shiny/with rounded facets?

I guess I don’t view well-roundedness as a coach as being something less attractive. Saying ‘yes’ to everything, probably not a good idea. But, at least for me, I’m aspiring to be a well-rounded, shiny, cabochon of a coach 😉

The more I thought about this metaphor, the more I really didn’t care for it. And I’m basing this reaction mostly on several views of the attached video.

First, it was clearly not balanced in perspective. That is, Michael presented Diamond coaches as clearly better than Pebble coaches. That is, it seems that—

  • Specialization trumps Generalization

  • Narrow expertise trumps Broad expertise

  • Saying no more trumps Saying yes more

  • Depth trumps Breadth

  • Expert trumps Journeyperson

He also made it sound like saying no to clients, based on your facets, was a badge of courage or reflective of your diamond-ness. And, while I appreciate the point he’s trying to make around a coach who doesn’t know or realize their limitations or trying to be someone for everyone, I think it was still too one-sided.

To be transparent, it’s also personal to me and I may be getting a bit defensive.

I think of myself as a well-rounded or Pebble Coach and not a Diamond Coach. Sure, I have areas where I’m stronger than others, but in general, I’m working on my coaching skills across all of my coaching competencies.

For example, I considered the Professional Coaching stance to be one of my weakest stances. So, I “sent myself” to ORSC training to improve my coaching chops. I also wanted to refine my organizational coaching skills, so I “sent myself” to a masterclass with Gustavo Razzetti on the Culture Design Canvas. My point isn’t about the classes. The point is, I’m working tirelessly and continuously to make myself more well-rounded. Not necessarily for me, but to better serve my clients.

I actually think it’s a good thing for a coach to stretch themselves out of the facetted comfort zones so that they don’t become a 1-or-2-trick (faceted) pony of sorts. Or staying with the metaphor, a super, 1-faceted Diamond coach.

Simply put, I don’t care for the metaphor.

As I mentioned in my LinkedIn reply, I believe a better metaphor would be Pebble Coach to Cabochon Coach. Where you continuously work on polishing your expertise across a broad spectrum of agile coaching competencies. And where breadth AND depth as a coach are celebrated.

Speaking of which, Mark Summers and I have recently contributed an Agile Coaching PI (personal improvement) assessment to Comparative Agility. It’s really intended to— 

  1. Identify a well-rounded set of Pebble competencies for each coach to work on (via the Agile Coaching Growth Wheel…how’s that for well-rounded?)

  2. Assess your competencies so that you can understand your strengths, weaknesses (facets, and polish areas).

  3. Better understand when to say yes, when to say no, and when you’re in over your head.

  4. Work on your personal improvement, growth, and learning plan so that your cabochons can shine.

To be honest, I’m growing tired of this depth versus breadth conversation in agile coaching. Agile coaching isn’t for the faint of heart, for yes-people, or for the under-skilled. It requires depth and breadth in your competencies and skills. While Diamonds may be shiny, I think we need more Pebbles becoming Cabochons in our agile coaching challenge-scape.

To answer Michael’s final question in his post – What do you want to be?

I want to be a well-rounded, cabochon agile coach. Thank you very much! Now, what about you?

Stay agile my friends,


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