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Shu Ha Ri – Martial Arts approach when leading a team

As a former martial artist who still practice a little bit, I am big fan of philosophy behind it. I really like Shu Ha Ri approach. Shu: Follow the rule. Ha: Break the rule. Ri: Be the rule.

Recently I have read a book – “Coaching Agile Teams” written by Lyssa Adkins. Author of the book describes this model as a good approach for an Agile Coach who develops his agile team. She has mapped Shu Ha Ri into agile stages.

I like to use it as well but in a different context. I like to use Shu Ha Ri approach to develop my team. Many young team leaders or managers, including me few years ago, who started career as strong technical people, very often try to be the best. They are afraid that someone else, especially people in their team, will become stronger if comes to technicalities. I used to be afraid also. Fortunately I grow up. Reading people management books and blogs, having good managers and practicing helped me understand that I was wrong. I can fully admit it.


I used to be a good automation tester who programmed well enough in Java. I know good practices, few test automation tools, design patterns etc. I like to use this knowledge to have technical discussion, mentor colleagues who needs me, and perform technical interviews for candidates. I can use it to show our approaches in tests to newcomers. I also help with less complicated tasks. This is Shu – people follow the rules. They learn – maybe new technology or just approaches that we took in our project.


I have in my unit at least two great technical experts. When they learned how our project and company work they become very good performances. They stick to proposed approaches very soon. Those guys become key testers in their teams who were able to answer all questions, propose good solutions and fit team needs. I was very happy having them on board.


Soon I realize that those guys are becoming better and better. I realize that they reached my level some time ago. I was not able to mentor them, instead I tried to help them with coaching, showing direction and removing obstacles that block them from time to time. Now, they are people who I ask when need technical expertise. I am really happy having them. They are rolling the project forward. My role is to support them.

I believe that this is good approach for managing people. If you, as manager or leader, are afraid of having people who are better than you, you put artificial obstacles on your team development. In such case you rock the boat for them and for yourself.

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