Habits of an agile servant leader – Introduction

1. Introduction

scrum master servant leader roles

The many roles Scrum Masters are playing in the Scrum team. (Reproduced from Barry Overeem 2017)

Scrum Masters play many important roles in the Scrum teams such as impediment remover, facilitator, coach, teacher, mentor, change-agent, among others. Interestingly, most Agile software development frameworks and practices usually emphasize on the servant leadership role of Scrum Masters. By definition, Scrum Master is “a servant-leader for the Scrum team” (Scrum Guide 2017). In practice,  while serving others, Scrum Masters find many challenges in many different levels. Among the challenges faced, those of interactions and relationships with whom the Scrum Masters are serving are playing the most important role, deciding whether a Scrum Master is successful in their role or not. “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools” is, therefore, mentioned first in the Agile Manifesto.

In this article, we are going to go through the four big habits that are critical to servant leaders to Scrum teams – Scrum Masters, from both Agile‘s and original Servant Leadership’s perspectives.

agile manifesto. individuals & interaction over processes & tools. working software over comprehensive documentation. customer collaboration over contract negociation. responding to change over following a plan.

Reproduced from Nathalie Karasek 2017

2. What is servant leadership?

The term servant leadership was first coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in the 1970 essay, The Servant as Leader. Unlike traditional leaders who focus on achieving personal wealth, power, and prosperity, servant-leaders are guided by strong moral values and commitment to the growth and well-being of others. Servant-leaders keep others’ needs in front of theirs and seek to serve first, i.e. the quality of selflessness. Instead of considering themselves on the top of the leadership pyramid, servant-leaders realize their earnest aspiration to serve others from the bottom up (also known as bottom-up leadership).

“Servant-leadership focuses on collaboration, trust, empathy and the usage of power ethically (, 2015).

inspect and adapt. scrum mastery quote cards
traditional leadership versus servant leadership

Reproduced from Gerald Ainomugisha (n.d.)

3. Four habits of a Scrum Master as an agile servant leader

From an Agile perspective, Robert K. Greenleaf‘s servant leadership definition can be seen as in line with Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber’s Scrum valuescommitment, courage, focus, openness and respect (Scrum Guides 2015). For that reason, the Habits of an agile servant leader blog series will shed light on these crucial habits.

Habit 1: Awareness and 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”. Moreover, awareness when appeared in the form of mindfulness – the purposeful and non-judgmental attention to oneself and their surroundings in the present moment, also enables a deep understanding of oneself and others in terms of thoughts, emotions, and experiences. Understanding oneself and others is critical as it lays the groundwork of trust in Agile culture.

At Switzerland-headquartered offshore software development company Axon Active, trustworthiness is one of the top promises we have for our clients

At Switzerland-headquartered offshore software development company Axon Active, trustworthiness is one of the top promises we have for our clients.

Habit 2: Empathy and Compassion

Because of their aspiration to serve and benefit many people from the heart, servant-leaders naturally have great empathy and compassion. While empathy refers to the ability to stand in someone’s shoes to see things from their perspective and understand their feelings, compassion takes this to the next level as one seeks to alleviate other’s suffering through concrete actions. Studies show that any act of empathy and compassion adds meanings to their jobs and the workplace.

Habit 3: Deep Listening and Observing

Modern-day leaders are confronted with (and bombarded by) an increased level of information, distractions, and busyness. Being too busy robs people of the ability to really focus on what matters most to them. In order to succeed, it’s important for agile servant leaders to slow down, learn to work on one thing at the time, and connect with themselves and other team members. And Deep Listening and Observing is the very habit that allows agile servant-leaders to do this.

By listening deeply to what is being said and what is left unsaid, a Scrum Master says what they need to say and learns to appreciate “the power of silence” while observing their Scrum team work towards the team goals. As a result, deep listening and observing enables Scrum Masters to conduct mindful communication with their teams while enhancing their team’s performance and improving the “individuals and interactions” element in their teams and organizations. When practiced correctly, deep listening and observing engenders the second habit Empathy and Compassion and can be attained through (or simultaneously with) the first habit Awareness and Mindfulness.

scrum master quote card. power of silence
scrum master quote card. what is not being said?

Habit 4: Humility and Respect

After Awareness and Mindfulness, Empathy and Compassion, and Deep Listening and Observing, it is inevitable that an agile servant leader will gain a great sense of humility for themselves and respect to others. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, feeling socially-belonged and inclusive is a prerequisite for the need of asserting one’s ego. In other words, a Scrum Master can only shine with other Scrum team members as a team but never individually.

maslow's hierarchy of needs

Social need – like belonging and inclusion, is prerequisite to Ego need – like self-esteem and recognition. (Reproduced from Peachey Publications, 2018)

4. Benefits of agile servant leaders for software development companies

Agile servant leadership brings out various benefits of great importance to Scrum Masters, development teams, and the organizational culture as a whole. In fact, these benefits have set Axon Active‘s services and performance apart from the competition, regionally and internationally, and enabled us to build long-term business values for our clients. Following are a few benefits of agile servant leadership that can be observed in software development companies.

When Scrum Masters truly lead teams from the heart as agile servant-leaders, they:

  • Manage their own work much more effectively – due to improved concentration
  • Bring emotional intelligence and social consciousness into teamwork
  • Bring positive changes to relationships and interactions with those they are serving – on personal and interpersonal levels
  • Create the spirit of commitment and loyalty among team members and employees
  • Increase productivity and customer-service rating
  • Reduce staff turnover
  • Become much more flexible (“agile”) in their approaches to challenges, safely navigating the Scrum teams through unexpected turns during the software development process

5. Summary

This article has introduced to you the 4 habits significant to agile servant leaders from both Agile and original servant leadership’s perspectives. If you are interested in getting to know more about these habits, please stay tuned! We will go deeper into each habit and provide tips to cultivate each habit successfully in Agile workplace in the following articles. 😉

Offshore software development company Axon Active work with clients based on respect and mutual understanding.

Offshore software development company Axon Active work with clients based on respect and mutual understanding.

Do you know? The year of 2019 marks the 10th year anniversary of Axon Active‘s awesome journey providing flexible and affordable custom software solutions for clients on the verge of digital transformation. Are you looking for the same solution from a reliable offshore software development company? Axon Active has years of experience in developing Agile software and applications for web and mobile platforms. We are the only organization in Vietnam that provides official Scrum Alliance’s Certified ScrumMaster and Certified Scrum Product Owner certifications.

Read our Guide to Start Software Development Outsourcing and let us know how we can help you now!

Axon Active – 10 year anniversary. Together on the awesome journey

Axon Active – Together on the awesome journey.

6. Recommended learning resources to get to know more about servant leadership in general


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