Habits of an agile servant leader – Introduction

Scrum Master is “a servant-leader for the Scrum team” (Scrum Guide 2017). While serving others, Scrum Masters find many challenges on 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 4 big habits critical to Scrum Masters’ servant leadership skills, from both Agile’s and original Servant Leadership’s perspectives.

AUGUST 22, 2019 | Reading time: 5.5 mins

scrum master servant leader roles: impediment remover, facilitator, coach, teacher, servant leader, manager, change agent, mentor

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

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

What is servant leadership?

axon active agile servant leadership for software developersThe 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).

traditional leadership versus servant leadership

Reproduced from Gerald Ainomugisha (n.d.)

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 deepened and become 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 servant leaders’ aspiration to serve and benefit many people from the heart, servant-leaders naturally act with 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 to a great extent.

Habit 3: Deep Listening and Observing

Modern-day leaders are confronted with (and bombarded by) an increased level of information, distractions, and busyness that makes them multitask. Being too busy and multitasking 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 teamwork towards the team goals. As a result, deep listening and observing enable 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 of 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 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 a prerequisite to Ego need – like self-esteem and recognition. (Reproduced from Peachey Publications, 2018)

Benefits of agile servant leaders for software development companies

team leader versus boss

Reproduced from Yang Liu’s Today meets Yesterday (2016)

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
  • Possess higher emotional intelligence and social consciousness, affecting positively to the teamwork
  • Bring positive changes to relationships and interactions with those they are serving
  • 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


This article has introduced to you the 4 habits significant to Scrum Masters from both Agile and original servant leadership’s perspectives. It also shows some significant benefits the four habits engender during the Scrum work process for these agile servant leaders.

Interested in getting to know deeper about these habits? Let’s get started with Habit 1: Awareness and Mindfulness.

Offshore software development company Axon Active PO (product owner) reunion

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

Do you know? The year 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!

Axon Active – Together on the awesome journey.

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

  • Greenleaf Center “What Is Servant Leadership?” – a 12-minute introduction video to the modern servant leadership movement, with background on Robert Greenleaf and interviews with leaders in the servant leadership. The interviews were conducted at the Greenleaf Conference in Indianapolis in 2012.