Agile LeadershipAginext Community

Meet the Community: Portia Tung

This week we are kicking off our Meet the Community, series interviewing some of our favourite Aginext Community members. It only makes sense we started this series with a perennial favourite at the agile events in London and now around with world — Portia Tung!

Portia was the first keynote of the Aginext conference on agile at scale (see video below) and has spoken or run workshops at six out of seven Agile Tour London one-day agile events.

She is known as THE advocate of play at work and in parenting, believing it is a true driver of creativity, happiness and innovation.

Earlier this month, Portia was a keynote at the Agile Alliance’s flagship event #Agile19 in Washington, D.C. (again video below.)

For this exclusive interview, we learn how Portia defines agile leadership, playful leadership, agile literature and more! Like what you read? Sign up to see her talk on playful leadership at Agile Tour London 2019 — and to join her for ukulele networking too!

How do you define Agile Leadership today?

For me, agile leadership is really just leadership. And leadership is fundamentally about choice. Every moment is a choice to change and grow. A true leader is one that walks the walk not just talk the talk.

A true leader has what Goleman refers to as an “autotelic personality” which, in a leadership context, means pursuing one’s life’s purpose or living one’s passion (eg enabling human potential) and the outcome is secondary to this pursuit. The power of the “autotelic personality” is what keeps us going and growing!

What is playful leadership?

Playful Leadership is an exploratory approach for discovering your own leadership style. It enables us to discover who we really are and how we think and lead at our best.

The opposite of Playful Leadership is what I call Zombie Leadership. For too long we have sustained the myth that we can simply “copy” a leadership style from textbooks or so-called role-models. We have spent too long believing that by shuffling to the office day in day out like zombies and gaming existing organisational structures in our favour to the detriment of organisations and society is what leadership means.

Playful Leadership is based on Play Science, neuroscience, psychology and coaching and enables us to reconnect with our playful selves. The process of Playful Leadership reveals unexpected insights that unlock the potential we have long known lie within us.

My Play research has helped me realise that, just as there is no stereotype of a playful person, there is no stereotype of a leader because leadership depends on the individual, other people involved and the context. It is therefore up to each and everyone of us to define and embody what leadership means to us and that begins with the courage of showing up fully as ourselves. And play is the ideal catalyst for doing just this because true play is fair play, safe play and being a good sport. When we play, our mind is curious and it turns out we cannot be curious and judgmental (of others and ourselves!) at the same time. Herein lies the catalysing magic of play to enable change!

How did you go about creating a job that’s all focussed on play?

Discovering and then living my life’s purpose is a lifelong hobby of mine, that of enabling human potential. It probably started at school when I was given the opportunity to be Head Girl. It gave me the chance to create an environment where my fellow students could flourish, part of what we call “leadership” these days. For me, there is nothing more satisfying to be in the presence of people who grow and helping catalyse that change. I love helping people grow – and that includes myself since the more I grow because the more effective I am at helping others grow!

Tell us about creating transformative change at No. 10 Downing St and the NHS.

About my work at the Prime Minister’s Office and Cabinet Office Communications? Like James Bond’s missions, my work there requires discretion. One thing I can reveal is that it is a great honour to be of service to Her Majesty’s Service.

My work with the NHS includes executive coaching for senior managers as well as facilitating vision and strategy workshops. Being able to support people who care so much about people is fulfilling work and I love working with the NHS!

Tell us about your work as an agile novelist.

The Dream Team Nightmare is the first in my Agile Adventures series. It’s the first Agile novel inspired by classic gamebook series you may have enjoyed in your childhood such as “Choose-Your-Own-Adventures” (US) and “Fighting Fantasy” (UK).

I wrote the book because I wanted to share my hard-won Agile knowledge and experience as well as learn from readers what they would do in similar situations. My intention was to write a book that would be as fun to read as it was to write!

The Dream Team Nightmare (published by Pragmatic Bookshelf) is a fun and interactive story with eight different endings designed to enrich and put your agile development knowledge and experience to the test. Packed with familiar scenarios an agile team faces every day,The Dream Team Nightmare offers you the chance to see what would happen if you could do things differently so you can change the way you do things for real with confidence.

Bonus Question: Tell us a fun, unique fact about you!

My greatest superpower is enabling people to discover their potential and figure out how to make their dreams come true (even when they themselves have long since given up). I continue to hone this superpower by exercising it on myself which is almost always a challenge, but always filled with surprise, tears and so much joy!

Photos courtesy of Portia from #Agile19.