Habits of an agile servant leader – Habit 3: Deep Listening & Observing
Following our last article about the second habit Empathy and Compassion for Scrum Masters, we’ll look at the third habit that is as important to them as agile servant leaders: Deep Listening and Observing. In this article, let’s look at Deep Listening and Observing together in terms of what this habit is about, how beneficial this habit is to agile software development environment, and handy tips for Scrum Masters to become better at listening and observing deeply.
SEPTEMBER 26, 2019 | SOFTWARE DEVELOPMENT, SCRUM, SERVANT LEADERSHIP | Reading time: 4 mins
Deep Listening and Observing – A skill crucial yet lacked among today’s leaders
On the one hand, a servant-leader is an “empathic person able to truly listen”. On the other hand, “a great Scrum Master will also listen carefully to what is not said“ and intend to understand their team.
However, nowadays “most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply”.
As a matter of fact, modern-day leaders are bombarded by an increased level of distractions, information, and busyness that makes them multitask. Being too busy and multitasking rob agile leaders the ability to focus, prioritize, and connect. In his book Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time, Jeff Sutherland infamously said “Multitasking makes you stupid”. To illustrate his point, Jeff quoted statistics showing sharp productivity decrease for every task added to the current workload.
Multitasking, another term for “project-switching” and “context-switching”, does more harm than good. In this chart cited by Jeff Sutherland, the loss to multitasking (in orange) rockets for every task added.
Therefore, in order to succeed, it’s important for agile servant-leaders to slow down and focus on one thing at the time. Deep Listening and Observing is a chance for agile servant-leaders to do just exactly this. Listening and focusing deeply allows agile servant-leaders to pause and see themselves and others in a better light – especially things that are not overtly expressed.
“Listening, coupled with periods of reflection, is essential to the growth and well-being of the servant leader.”
How to listen and observe deeply
Recreated from Men’s Fellowship Network n.d.
Studies have shown that one can only listen and observe deeply with a clear and calm mind. A clear and calm mind enables one to listen to one’s inner voice and reinforce their commitment to listen intently to others.
Researchers also found that one can easily have a clear and calm mind after a good night sleep or a session of mindfulness practice – something that brings a person back to and embrace whatever happens in the present moment. That’s why in Deep Listening, one can be “more focused”, “aware of both the content and “music”, listening for ‘foreground’ and ‘background'” when in a conversation with someone else.
Reproduced from Destress Monday (n.d.)
Tips to cultivate Deep Listening and Observing
A principle underpinning Agile Manifesto emphasizes face-to-face conversation as “the most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team”. So to cultivate the habit of Deep Listening and Observing effectively, especially in software development, agile servant-leaders should opt for the direct mode of communication. How can a person deeply listen, observe, and connect with someone without seeing them in person and truly being there for them?
Following are some handy tips Scrum Masters can practice with to get better at Deep Listening every day.
Benefits of Deep Listening and Observing to agile servant-leaders
Benefit 1: Managing work better
Many generations of researchers show that calm and clear-minded Agile practitioners like Scrum Masters who listen and observe deeply manage their work much more effectively thanks to improved concentration. Staying calm and being able to intently listen and observe, especially when the going gets tough, are therefore a significant skill among leaders today.
Benefit 2: Healing Scrum team on a personal level
In their talk at the Agile2014, an Agile Alliance’s annual conference, Certified Scrum Coaches Michael Sahota and Olaf Lewitz showed that Deep Listening brings transformation and healing to Scrum teams.
“Deep listening is the kind of listening that can help relieve the suffering of another person. […] You just listen with compassion and help him to suffer less. One hour like that can bring transformation and healing.” ~ Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh
Benefit 3: Transforming troubled Scrum team interactions
Because Deep Listening heals and transforms everyone on a personal level, it takes down communication barriers in team interactions and encourages everyone in the Scrum team to open up and share creative ideas. This is crucial for continuous improvement – an important process in Scrum.
With time, Deep Listening and Observing brings a breath of fresh air to Scrum team dynamics. Thanks to hard feelings being wholesomely recognized and expressed, agile servant-leaders like Scrum Masters transform their effectiveness in Agile work process.
Benefit 4: Supporting Habit 1 and Habit 2 of an agile servant leader
If you’ve read about Awareness and Mindfulness (Habit 1), you know that Deep Listening and Observing enhances Scrum Masters’ Mindfulness at work which saves them considerable amounts of time spent in meetings and emails.
Together with the first habit, Deep Listening and Observing also improves Scrum Masters’ Empathy and Compassion (Habit 2), which is important for the Scrum Masters’ servant leadership skills.
Recommended learning resources to cultivate Deep Listening and Observing
Local workshops and training courses
There is no better way to learn from and discuss your learnings with those who have experienced it first-handedly locally. As an agile software development company, Axon Active normally hosts events like Scrum Breakfast Vietnam, DevDay Danang, and professional training courses delivered by Scrum Alliance experts. To keep yourself up-to-date with when such happenings occur near where you live, tune in to Axon Active’s news, Scrum Breakfast Vietnam, or Scrum Breakfast Vietnam – Agile and Scrum.
Certificates are obtained at the end of professional training courses that Axon Active offers to college students, IT interns, and IT professionals.
A Fit For Scrum training course provided by Axon Active
- Video: 5 ways to listen better TED Talk by Julian Treasure
- [article] Character and Servant Leadership: Ten Characteristics of Effective, Caring Leaders by Larry C. Spears, former President & CEO of the Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant-Leadership – as published on The Journal of Virtues and Leadership, Vol 1, Issue 1, 2010, pages 25-30, School of Global Leadership & Entrepreneurship, Regent University.
- [article] Deep Listening, by David Rome – as published on Mindful Magazine, August 26, 2010
- [article] The Forgotten Secret to Powerful Connection: Deep Listening, by Clinical Psychologist Janie Loubser
Through this blogpost, we have walk you through the definition of Deep Listening and Observing, how to do so effectively from agile and servant-leadership perspectives and some tips to get better at it. We hope the recommended learning resources provided at the end of this article will inspire you to customize your best ways to develop this habit and make your agile organization a better place every day.
Curious what’s next after Deep Listening and Observing? Let’s discover an important aspect of the fourth habit: Humility.
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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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Axon Active’s software development outsourcing team in Myanmar.
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