Who is Jean Tabaka (@jeantabaka)?

A few years after we had created our leadership game, my father told me he had a bought a great book that he thought would interest me. He showed me Collaboration Explained.

I had already read the book. At Agile 2008, I followed a session about that from Jean. During the break before the the session she played a few versions of the song I don’t like Mondays. I was a little bit puzzled about why someone would play multiple versions of the same song during a break. I did not realize that the songs were an extra for the people already in the room. She started the session explaining why she hated Mondays. Talking about starting a session with a big bang. In a recent mail conversation Jean told me her definition of living: “For me, living is managing to hold onto all the incredible things in the face of all the challenges.” Ah, what a nice definition.


What is something people usually don’t know about you but has influenced you in who you are?

I have been learning about the power of vulnerability as I have sought to be stronger. In fact, I think I no longer seek to be “stronger.” I want to be vulnerable enough to make it okay for others to be vulnerable. I think that is true strength , not the strength I sought before.

If you would not have been in IT, what would have become of you?

I studied French in college, believe it or not. To have the opportunity to move into software and into the world in which I now engage is beyond what I could have ever imagined. I am now moving into a world where I am working to support non-profits by guiding them in how I do my work: with facilitation, with Agile, with collaboration. In that sense, I suppose you could say, that is taking me away from software in a way I never could have imagined. This is what I am becoming rather than what I would have set out to do. Now if you really want a “dream”, I would have been that gorgeous blonde former cellist in the Kronos Quartet, Joan Jeanrenaud 🙂 Wow. What an incredible vocation and avocation! What an amazing woman.

What is your biggest challenge and why is it a good thing for you?

Learning to let go and to pay attention to my listening skills. This is important both as a facilitator and as a team member. As I get better and better at listening, I can only learn. I can’t help but get more insights and more perspectives. And so, I hold this as a life long challenge. Oddly, coupled with that, when I am around very strong personalities, I find I may hold back my insights so that I avoid what I might perceive as conflict. I suspect these two challenges are related. If I can listen in a healthy way, I don’t need to drop out and give up the insights my team deserves. In this regard, my challenge is to “show up”, find out what has heart and meaning to me, tell my truth about that, and then let go of the result/outcome. That is a life long journey.

What drives you?

I believe in empathy. I want to always check in on my own empathy as I seek to bring out empathy. I am an avid learner. I have so many books I read or want to read. I have a Kindle so that I can carry “my library” around with me. I also very much value helping others grow. I can often trivialize my skills. And yet I discover that when someone asks me to be a mentor, it is an honor. And, the act of mentoring and seeing someone create something bigger than the two of us, that is just so awesome.

What is your biggest achievement?

Being Jean. I think I struggled for quite a while trying to be someone who pleases everyone else at the risk of losing her own identity. I didn’t see how destructive that was. But it was. You lose an ability to reach and stretch. Such a behavior or way of thinking is so hard to break. If you don’t though, you can’t find out who you are, what your gifts are, and how you can nurture them. As I look back on my life from where I am now, I am in utter awe that I get to do what I do and be who I am. I get to be incredibly passionate about my work, my colleagues, and the communities in which I engage. I get to give. And I receive so much. And I do it being Jean. Given that I had set my sights only on others for so long and assumed so little could be true for me, it truly is my biggest accomplishment: that I am really being Jean.

What is the last book you have read?

I’m in the middle of

Do I get to say they are the last books I read?

What question do you think I should also ask and what is the answer?

Q: “What do you most value in your life?” A: “I feel so lucky to have met so many wonderful people through my career. I value how much they have taught me. I truly, deeply value my colleagues here at Rally, especially my CTO, Ryan Martens, and my CEO, Tim Miller. They have changed my life forever. I value that I have had the incredible fortune to travel all over the world to talk about things I am truly passionate about. And, I value that I actually get paid to do work that I truly love.

Who do you think I should ask next?

Jim Benson

Brenda Bao

If you like these questions, you can buy the book Who is agile

In the book lots of agilists are answering the same questions. And Jean is also answering:

Dale Emery’s Question: What is the gift that you currently hold in exile?