Habits of an agile servant leader – Habit 1: Awareness & Mindfulness

1. Introduction

In the last blogpost, we introduced to you briefly the 4 habits of agile servant-leaders. This time, we are going to dive deeper into the first habit – Awareness and Mindfulness, what Awareness and Mindfulness is, how this habit allows agile servant-leaders to manage the Scrum Team more effectively, and how they can cultivate more Awareness and Mindfulness at work.

mind full or mindful

Reproduced from University of Michigan’s University Health Service (n.d.)

2. What is Awareness? What is Mindfulness?

First and foremost, servant-leaders share the quality of awareness in their leadership. According to Robert K. Greenleaf, “General awareness, and especially self-awareness, strengthens the servant-leaders. Awareness helps one in understanding issues involving ethics, power and values.”

Moreover, awareness when appeared in the form of mindfulness enables a deep understanding of oneself and others in terms of thoughts, emotions, and experiences. According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and molecular biology at MIT, mindfulness is the purposeful and non-judgmental attention to oneself and their surroundings in the present moment. Understanding oneself and others is critical as it lays the groundwork of trust in Agile culture.

what 15 things mindful people do differently

Reproduced from Ideapod Blog (2016)

3. Benefits of Awareness and Mindfulness for agile servant-leaders

Awareness & Mindfulness can support Scrum Masters in confronting various challenges in the Scrum teams as servant leaders. According to Bloomberg and Agile Alliance, most (if not all) challenges faced in tech industry are “not about technical reasons but human issues”.

3.1 Understanding of hidden communication challenges

Miscommunication and conflicts as a result of miscommunication can create unnecessary tension in the Scrum team. Unfortunately, it is one of the most common teamwork problems. Miscommunication and misunderstanding happen at different organizational levels: co-workers and co-workers, management and employees, etc. In Agile software development context, it can happen between development teams and product owners, and Scrum Masters and the development teams.

restropective coaching card

Unsurprisingly, non-verbal communication accounts for 93% of communication effectiveness. In fact, 55% comes from body language and 38%, tone of voice (University of California, Los AnglesUCLA). Non-verbal communication is responsible for most conflicts in teams. Being aware and mindful of their way of communication – verbally and non-verbally, besides their own thoughts and emotions moment-to-moment, as well as that of others, allows Scrum Masters to quickly identify and understand the root causes of communication “impediments” and conflicts that come from within and without. From there, Scrum Masters can reflect continuously and adjust themselves accordingly. Or, they can feed back constructively to a Scrum team member on the respective matters in the frequent feedback loops or during the Sprint Retrospective events so that everyone can be aware and adapt for the next Sprint around.

With practice, Awareness & Mindfulness will increase Scrum Masters’ emotional intelligence which is important for building coherent relationships and interactions with all Scrum team members. Through Awareness and Mindfulness, Scrum practice goes hassle-free, paving the way for solidarity and harmony to cultivate in the Scrum teams.

3.2 Understanding of social challenges

The second benefit of Awareness & Mindfulness habit is it increases Scrum Masters’ understanding of social challenges happening at work. Needless to say, these social challenges are more often than not rarely-touched topics in team meetings. These challenges come in various forms. Lack of diversity in gender and race. Gender bias, mostly in the forms of sexism or misogyny. Or xenophobia, racism, or discrimination against LGBT communities. Typically unspoken, these frequently-faced issues at work have hindered IT talents’ capability to effectively handle their jobs – as individuals and as teams.

At this point, Awareness & Mindfulness habit allows Scrum Masters to act in ways that bring about a fairer, safer, and more inclusive workplace for everyone. Harvard Medical School research, among other similar studies, shows that Awareness & Mindfulness plays an important role in easing “psychological stresses like anxiety, depression, and pain,” creating a harmonious and positive team atmosphere. The inventor of Scrum, Jeff Sutherland, has emphasized more than once that happiness is always directly-proportional to a Scrum Team’s productivity. Happier workers, indeed, deliver better performance by 12%.
people are 12% more productive when they are feeling happy

Happy people are about 12% more productive, according to a study by the University of Warwick. (Reproduced from BlogIn n.d.)

3.3 Increased Agile team’s effectiveness

Last but not least, when practiced correctly, Scrum Masters (and everyone in the Scrum team) are honest and “open about the challenges with performing the work”, and “have courage to do the right thing” (Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber, 2017). As Geoff Watts said, agile servant-leaders are ready to “tear up old standards”, “challenge the traditions [in] their companies”, and “pioneer new techniques and strategies” no matter how challenging it is.

In a 2018 interview with Harvard Business Review, book authors Jacqueline Carter and Raasmus Hougaard affirmed when leaders become “more mindful and more self-aware”, there will be a more people-centric culture. It is where people are put at the center of the organizations. “The people’s well-being, the people’s sense of connectedness and meaning takes center stage”.

With Awareness & Mindfulness, Scrum Masters can truly bring positive changes and increase teamwork effectiveness in their Scrum Teams as agile servant-leaders.
scrum master inspect and adapt
axon active our mission

At software development company Axon Active, our mission “We believe that people are our most important assets!” has reflected a people-centric culture.

4. Tips to cultivate more Awareness and Mindfulness at work

Tip #1

Spend some time to regularly ask yourself:

  • Do those served grow as persons?
  • Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?
  • And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society (i.e. the poor, the under-represented, among others)?
  • Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?

(Robert K. Greenleaf)

Tip #2

Rasmus Hougaard & Jacqueline Carter, in the 2018 Leading With Less Ego interview with Harvard Business Review, propose the 2-2-2 strategy for leaders to be more insightful and all-the-more calm at work.

  • Upon starting to work in the morning, start with two minutes of mindfulness practice: focus on your breathing or your belly as it goes up and down with your breathing with eyes closed. You may set up a vibrating alarm for this activity. Check in with your body: does it feel energized after a good night sleep? Or has it any aches somewhere that need some brief massage and relaxation?
  • then two minutes of prioritization: reflect on the most important things which really need to get done today that helps achieve long-term vision
  • then the next two minutes is about planning: successful leaders treat their calendar while being aware and mindful of their mental states and bodily states.
    • For example, he/she may be aware their mental states are not effective for back-to-back meetings, so he/she blocks in 5 minutes between the meetings so they can take a short break (with mindfulness practice mentioned above) and check in with themselves.
    • He/she cancel meetings even though they’re important when they know they’re not going to be at their best emotionally or physically.

5. Summary

Through this article, Awareness & Mindfulness is discussed as the first habit of an effective agile servant-leader. We also go through the benefits of this habit for agile servant-leaders in coping with challenges that hold down Scrum Team’s performances and Scrum Masters’ development, as well as that of the organizations they are working for. We hope with the tips provided in the end, agile servant leaders can be able to cultivate more Awareness & Mindfulness at work. Do not hesitate to add your own creative way of developing this habit besides the principles provided in this blogpost! 🙂 More learning resources will be recommended in the final article of the series, so please stay tuned! 😉

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Ms. Jennifer Tremp, Product Owner of Finform AG (Switzerland), one of our long-term partners, once said:

“The teams we work with in Vietnam apply the Scrum framework which allows us as a team to get feedback very quickly and to learn from it, as a critical factor of improvement. And for our customers, we can show them the software after each iteration and get their feedback. This is the biggest advantage of Agile and Scrum. In a world with requirements changing fast and often, it’s very important that you can respond to those changes in a fast and inexpensive way – and Agile allows you to do that. It might take some time to change the mindset but once you understand what Agile is about, it is very beneficial.

Thanks to the collaboration with Axon Active, we are able to develop our projects in the Fintech industry successfully, an industry that bears a lot of potential and is growing fast.”

Axon Active is a tech firm from Switzerland with years of experience in developing agile software and applications for web and mobile platforms. We are the only organization in Vietnam offering official Scrum Alliance’s Certified ScrumMaster and Certified Scrum Product Owner certifications. The exclusive Scrum and agile coaching sessions have enabled distinguished clients like Soreco and CRIF, among others, to successfully adopt Agile working methodologies and observe major digital transformation over the years.

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