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
The many roles Scrum Masters are playing in the Scrum team. (Reproduced from Barry Overeem 2017)
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” (Scrum.org, 2015).
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 values – commitment, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 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.
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.
- How to Become a Better Servant Leader, published on Agile Alliance
- Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership’s What is servant leadership?
- All Strategy. (n.d.). What is Servant Leadership? Retrieved from All Strategy.
- April Wensel (2018). Agile2018: Compassion in Tech and Business | Women in Agile [Recorded by Accenture’s Agile Amped Podcast]. San Diego, USA.
- Barry Overeem. (2015). The Scrum Master as a Servant-Leader. Retrieved from Scrum.org
- Barry Overeem. (2017). The Scrum Master as the Change Leader. Retrieved from Business 2 Community
- BlogIn. (n.d.). How to increase productivity of your team. Retrieved from BlogIn
- Cambridge Dictionary. (n.d.). tact definition. Retrieved from Cambridge Dictionary
- Catalyst. (2018). Infographic: Inclusion Matters. Retrieved from Catalyst
- Claire Rumore, & Moses Ma. (2016). Mindfulness And The Agile Process. Retrieved from Future Lab
- clemanskeonw. (n.d.). Servant leadership – Inspiring others. Retrieved from Tes Blendspace
- Geoff Watts. (2011). Getting RE-TRAINED To Be A ScrumMaster. Retrieved from Scrum Alliance
- Geoff Watts. (2013). Scrum Mastery: From Good to Great Servant-Leadership. Scrum Mastery Quote Cards. Inspect & Adapt Ltd.
- Gerald Ainomugisha. (n.d.). Your Complete Guide to Servant Leadership. Retrieved from 6Q, the employee engagement survey system
- Jeff Sutherland. (2014). Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time. New York: Penguin Random House UK.
- Jon Kabat-Zinn. (2017). Jon Kabat-Zinn: Defining Mindfulness. Retrieved from Mindful Magazine
- Joshua Partogi. (2017). What is Servant Leadership. Retrieved from Scrum.org
- Julie Corliss. (2014). Mindfulness meditation may ease anxiety, mental stress. Retrieved from Harvard Health Publishing – Harvard Medical School
- Ken Gosnell. (2017). The 5 Attributes of Servant Leaders. Retrieved from LinkedIn
- Ken Schwaber, & Jeff Sutherland. (2017). Scrum Guide – The Definitive Guide to Scrum: The Rules of the Game. Retrieved from scrumguide.org
- Larry C. Spears. (2010). Character and Servant Leadership: Ten Characteristics of Effective, Caring Leaders. The Journal of Virtues & Leadership, 1(1), 25-30. Retrieved from Regent University
- Laura Colby. (2017). Women and Tech. Retrieved from Bloomberg
- Lyssa Adkins. (2010). Coaching agile teams: A companion for ScrumMasters, Agile coaches, and project managers in transition. Addison-Wesley Professional.
- Michael Sahota, & Olaf Lewitz. (2014). Co-Aching: How to Use Compassion to Transform your Effectiveness. Agile Alliance’s Agile2014. Orlando: Agile Alliance. Retrieved from Agile Alliance
- Nathalie Karasek. (September 22, 2017). Agile Manifesto. Retrieved from Nathalie Karasek Blog.
- Neal E. Chalofsky . (2010). Meaningful Workplaces: Reframing How and Where We Work. San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass – A Wiley Imprint.
- Peachey Publication. (2018). Applying Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to the Use of Educational Technology. Retrieved from Peachey Publication
- Philip Yafee. (October 2011). The 7% Rule: Fact, Fiction, Or Misunderstanding, pages 1-5. Retrieved from ACM’s Ubiquity – peer-reviewed Web-based magazine
- Rasmus Hougaard, & Jacqueline Carter. (2018). Leading with Less Ego. Retrieved from Harvard Business Review
- Robert K. Greenleaf. (n.d.). The servant as leader. Retrieved from Centre for Servant Leadership
- Ken Schwaber & Jeff Sutherland . (2017). Scrum Guide – The Definitive Guide to Scrum: The Rules of the Game. Retrieved from https://scrumguides.org.
- Scrum Inc. (2014). Happiness Metric – The Wave of the Future. Retrieved from Scrum Inc.
- The University of North Carolina Wilmington. (n.d.). Servant leadership questionnaire. Retrieved from The University of North Carolina Wilmington
- Thich Nhat Hanh. (2002). Teachings on Love. USA: Parallax Press.
- University of California, Berkeley. (2019). What is Compassion? Retrieved from University of California, Berkeley
- University of Southern California. (2018). Leadership Style Quiz: Identify your Style. Retrieved from University of Southern California
- Ward Cunningham et al. (2001). Manifesto for Agile Software Development. Retrieved from Agile Manifesto
- Yang Liu. (2016) Today meets yesterday. TASCHEN GmbH