Habits of an agile servant leader – Summary and Recommendations

The 6 articles in the series Habits of an agile servant leader have explained to you in details what these habits are. It is worthwhile to have a broader look again at them and to give them a brief reflection. In this blogpost, besides summarizing each habit in infographics, we will recommend you some of the best learning resources which can inspire you to go further and discover these habits in your own terms.

Through our experience, books and practicing these habits firsthand with yourself and your team are still the most reliable way to learn these habits. Digital learning resources also come to mind but since it’s not easy to identify good online learning resources, we’d like to lend you a hand by gathering here some of the best online resources authored by trusted experts and credible organizations in the field that can add tremendous volume to your learning experience.

OCTOBER 31, 2019   |   Reading time: 7 mins

Leader are the one who empower others

Reproduced from Leslie Evans Global Coaching (2018)

Habit 1 – Awareness and Mindfulness

Awareness and Mindfulness, the first habit, emphasizes the habit of being mindful of what’s happening inside and around oneself. The heightened awareness without judgment of what’s going on inside and out will allow agile servant leaders to increase self-awareness and emotional intelligence. This serves as important groundwork for all the necessary actions to be taken that bring positive changes and meanings to an agile workplace. The more mindful in this way the agile practitioner is, the better they are at taking the right actions for the greater good.

The illustrations below will help us sum up the first habit.

what is awareness and mindfulness
benefits of awareness and mindfulness

Among the 4 habits that make an agile servant leader, it is important to understand that the first habit – Awareness and Mindfulness, holds the most important role among the four.

Without Awareness and Mindfulness, it is hard for agile servant leaders to have empathy for those they are serving and commit to compassionate acts, to listen and observe others deeply, and have a sense of humility about themselves and show sincere respect to others. In fact, Awareness and Mindfulness initiates the whole Agile Servant Leadership ‘engine’ of yours! When going hand in hand with the third habit – Deep Listening and Observing, the effects of Awareness and Mindfulness are multiplied by a thousand-fold and have the capacity to boost up the level of Empathy & Compassion (the second habit) and Humility & Respect (the fourth habit) among diligent practitioners.

The map below shows how this first habit allows the rest of the other three to kick-start and create sustainable loops of wholesome habits for agile servant leaders.

interrelations between the four habits of agile servant leaders

Recommended learning resources

  1. [Book] Mindful Leadership for Dummies, by Juliet Adams and Marina Grazier, United Kingdom: John Wiley & Sons.
mindful leadership for dummies
  1. [Conference Paper] Mindfulness and agile software development, by Sabine Matook (The University of Queensland) and Karlheinz Kautz (RMIT University – School of Business IT and Logistics), December 2008, as conducted at the 19th Australasian Conference on Information Systems (ACIS 2008) at Christchurch, New Zealand and published on ResearchGate (with link to downloadable paper)
mindfulness and agile software development

Reproduced from ResearchGate

  1. [Article] Jon Kabat-Zinn: Defining Mindfulness, by Jon Kabat-Zinn (2017) as published on Mindful Magazine
jon kabat-zinn defining mindfulness

Reproduced from Mindful Magazine

  1. [Article] Mindfulness and the agile process, by Claire Rumore and Moses Ma (2016) as published on Future Lab
mindfulness and the agile process

Reproduced from Future Lab

The loving-kindness practice suggested by Claire Rumore & Moses Ma (2016)

  • Proceed from the easiest person for you to love to the more difficult.
  • For instance, start by focusing love on the aspiration for your own well-being à gradually expand to those working on the entire floor à in the entire building à in the entire city, etc.
  • Also, try expanding your feelings of compassion to those who are harder be kind to… [the people who make you feel difficult]

You will find that [the daily practice] will unfold and expand in your life and in the lives of your co-workers and beyond. They will break down barriers, they will enhance communication and openness, and help your team transcend fear to move into the space of pure, unconstrained business creativity and agility.

  1. [Article] Zen agility: When agile methodology meets mindful awareness, by Taylor Holland (2017), as published on IBM’s website
zen agility when agile methodology meets mindful awareness IBM

Reproduced from IBM’s corporate website

  1. [Book] The Miracle of Mindfulness, by Thich Nhat Hanh (1975), USA: Parallax Press.
thich nhat hanh the miracle of mindfulness

Reproduced from Amazon

  1. [Article] Mindfulness meditation may ease anxiety, mental stress, by Julie Corliss (2014), as published on Harvard Health Publishing – Harvard Medical School
mindfulness meditation may ease anxiety, mental stress harvard health publishing harvard medical school

Reproduced from Harvard Health Publishing – Harvard Medical School

  1. [Article] Leading with Less Ego, by Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter (2018), as published on Harvard Business Review
leading with less ego rasmus hougaard and jacqueline carter harvard business review

Reproduced from Harvard Business Review

  1. [Article] Mindful agile – how mindfulness enables the agile mindset and collaborative culture, by Agile Coach and Trainer Kathy Berkidge (2017), as published on LinkedIn
mindful agile - how mindfulness enables the agile mindset and collaborative culture

Reproduced from Kathy Berkidge’s LinkedIn page

Habit 2 – Empathy and Compassion

For the second habit, it is crucial to note that empathy and compassion for oneself is the key and prerequisite to cultivate empathy and compassion for other people. Therefore, in the empathy an agile servant leader has for the suffering of others, they are advised to take action only when the empathy doesn’t put a strain on them (i.e. empathic concern). What’s more, although selflessness is a natural tendency among agile servant leaders, selflessness is healthy for them only when it is accompanied with self-confidence. Otherwise, agile servant leaders will be easy prey for the 3 compassionate traps.

The second habit, Empathy and Compassion, can be summed up below.

4 elements of empathy

Reproduced from Michael Sahota and Olaf Lewitz (Agile Alliance’s Agile2014)

two tendencies of empathy i.e. empathic distress and empathic concern
three compassionate traps i.e. pushover, narcissist, and ego

3 compassion traps: pushover, narcissist, and ego – by The Mind of the Leader authors Jacqueline Carter & Rasmus Hougaard (2018)

Recommended learning resources

  1. [Presentation] Co-Aching: How to Use Compassion to Transform your Effectiveness, a workshop presentation of Scrum Alliance’s Certified Scrum Coaches Michael Sahota and Olaf Lewitz (2014)
agile alliance co-aching how to use compassion to transform your effectiveness

Reproduced from Agile Alliance

  1. [Article] Compassion Defined, as published on University of California, Berkeley’s The Greater Good Magazine by University of California, Berkeley (2019) – with 3 focuses on What is Compassion?, Why Practice It?, and How Do I Cultivate It?
UC berkeley greater good magazine what is compassion

Reproduced from UC Berkeley’s The Greater Good Magazine

  1. [Book] Coaching agile teams: A companion for ScrumMasters, Agile coaches, and project managers in transition, by Lyssa Adkins (2010) as published by Addison-Wesley Professional.

Author Lyssa Adkins of 2010 book Coaching Agile Teams give interesting guided practice to cultivate more empathy and compassion for Scrum Masters when it comes to coaching their team members:

  • As you prepare to coach someone, check yourself. If you view the coachee as a problem to solve, you are in a barren place for coaching. All the coaching skills and agile experience in the world will fall flat if you coach from this perspective.
  • This becomes even more challenging when you dislike someone or maybe just dislike the impact of their actions on themselves or others. Even in this situation, your job as agile coach calls you to create a positive regard for them. Do this by changing your view about them. Regard the person as a human being with hopes, dreams, and desires (like your own) so that you can approach them with love and compassion, two essential ingredients for good coaching.
  • Following this lead, feel genuine compassion for where this person is in life and work. Feel genuine compassion for the impact they have on themselves and others through their actions. Then reaffirm your belief that no one would knowingly negatively impact themselves, and believe, again, that everyone is doing the best they can.
  • Now with love and compassion on board, you are ready to be uncompromising in your knowledge of what it means to be a good agile team member and to help the person move toward that vision, as they are willing and able.
  1. [Book] Teachings on Love, by Thich Nhat Hanh (2002), USA: Parallax Press.
Teachings on Love by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh

Teachings on Love by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh (Reproduced from Amazon)

  1. [Recording] Compassion in Tech and Business by April Wensel (2018), as recorded by Accenture’s Agile Amped Podcast at Agile Alliance’s Agile2018 in San Diego, USA. (with link to downloadable mp3 audio file)
april wensel compassion in tech and business

April Wensel (in black cardigan) and Agile Amped’s host, Leslie Morse (Reproduced from Agile Amped Podcast 2018)

  1. [Video] The power of vulnerability TED Talk by Dr Brene Brown (2011)

The talk gives you much more insights about empathy based on Dr Brene Brown’s decades of research. Dr Brene Brown studies human connection — our ability to empathize, belong, and love.

Dr. Brene Brown talks about her decades of research about empathy in her over-40-million-view TED Talk (Reproduced from TED Talk).

  1. [Book] Meaningful Workplaces: Reframing How and Where We Work, by Neal E. Chalofsky (2010), San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass – A Wiley Imprint.
meaningful workplaces - reframing how and where we work

Reproduced from Google Books

Habit 3 – Deep listening and Observing

As mentioned in an early passage, the third habit of Deep Listening and Observing plays a critical role in enhancing the effectiveness of the first habit – Awareness and Mindfulness. Together with the first habit, it helps generating the second and the fourth habits.

In order for this third habit to bear fruit, agile servant leaders should keep in mind that:

  • Being readily available and constantly distracted by always-on technological devices is the cause of easily-triggered irritation, increased addiction to multitasking, and the lack of patience in listening and communication in general.
  • The purpose of deep listening is to understand what has been said and what has been left unsaid – instead of getting your responses ready while listening to the other person.

Recommended learning resources

  1. [Book] Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time, by Jeff Sutherland (2014). New York: Penguin Random House UK.

Learn about the importance of doing one thing at a time, the harm of distractions, and the detrimental consequences of multitasking from the co-inventor of Scrum and also one of the world’s most respected software engineers.

jeff sutherland scrum book

Reproduced from Amazon

  1. [Article] Deep Listening, by David Rome, as published on Mindful Magazine, August 26, 2010
deep listening

“To really listen to others, we must first learn to listen to ourselves” (Reproduced from Mindful Magazine).

  1. [Book] Scrum Mastery: From Good to Great Servant-Leadership, by Geoff Watts (2013). UK: Inspect & Adapt Ltd

Learn about “Eliminating Distractions” in Disruptive and “The Power of Silence” in Tactful book sections.

Scrum Mastery

Reproduced from Amazon

  1. [Article] Healing The Child Within, by Thich Nhat Hanh (2011), as published on Mindful Magazine

This article shows some ways of how to listen deeply to yourself and take care of the childhood trauma that is carried into your adulthood.

Drawing by Tighe Moore, age 7 (Reproduced from Mindful Magazine)

Drawing by Tighe Moore, age 7 (Reproduced from Mindful Magazine).

  1. [Book] Singletasking – Get more done, one thing at a time, by Zack Devora (2015)
singletasking book devora jack

Reproduced from Amazon

  1. [Book] The Art of Communicating, by Thich Nhat Hanh (2013). USA: Parallax Press.
the art of communicating thich nhat hanh

Reproduced from Amazon

  1. [Book] Mindful Listening (HBR Emotional Intelligence Series), by Harvard Business Review, (2019). USA: Harvard Business Review Press.

Mindful Listening (HBR Emotional Intelligence Series) by [Harvard Business Review, Review, Harvard Business]

Reproduced from Amazon

Habit 4 – Humility and Respect

The fourth habit consists of two important elements that always go hand in hand – Humility and Respect. Despite being one of the most misunderstood and underestimated quality, especially from a traditional point of view, humility should be cultivated among future agile servant leaders, if not all leaders in general, for its all-embracing and virtuous influence on others and the organizations they are working for as a whole. Sincerely-cultivated humility will lead agile servant leaders to the mutual respect with those they are serving. Once these qualities are celebrated and promoted at work, success will follow like a shadow that never leaves.

See for yourself Humility and Respect sum-ups below.

behaviors of humble agile servant leaders
hidden costs of arrogance and charisma
the ring of humility
benefits of humility
what people want most from their leaders is respect
benefits of respect at work
costs of disrespect
the matter of bullying in communication at axon active

At Axon Active, we raise awareness of common serious issues at work like The matter of bullying in communication through company-wide Knowledge Exchange session in May 2019 to promote a respectful work environment.

Recommended learning resources

  1. [Event] Scrum Breakfast Vietnam events like No ego leadership in another view organized by Axon Active
axon active scrum breakfast no ego leadership in another view

Reproduced from Axon Active

  1. [Book] The Art of Power, by Thich Nhat Hanh (2007). USA: Parallax Press.
the art of power thich nhat hanh

Reproduced from Google Books

  1. [Research Paper] Humility and Emotional Intelligence, by Cam Caldwell and Comfort O. Okpala (2018) as published on ResearchGate (with link to downloadable full research paper)
humility and emotional intelligence - keys to interpersonal effectiveness

Reproduced from ResearchGate

  1. [Book] H3 Leadership: Be Humble. Stay Hungry. Always Hustle, by Brad Lomenick (2015), Thomas Nelson.
humble hungry hustle h3 leadership

Reproduced from Amazon

  1. [Video] Robert Hogan on the Importance of Humility in Leaders, by Dr. Robert Hogan (2018), co-founder and president of Hogan Assessments; professor of Psychology and Social Relations at The Johns Hopkins University; and Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley.

Reproduced from Hogan Assessments YouTube channel 2018

  1. [Video] Be humble – and other lessons from the philosophy of water, a TED talk by Raymond Tang (2017)

Reproduced from TED talk

  1. [Video] Scrum Theory and Values, by Scrum Alliance
scrum theory and values

Reproduced from Scrum Alliance

  1. [Book] Communication in a Civil Society, by Shelly D. Lane, Ruth Anna Abigail, John Gooch (2013)
communication in a civil society

Reproduced from Amazon

  1. [Video] Why being respectful to your coworkers is good for business, a TED talk by Christine Porath, associate professor of management from Georgetown University

“The number one reason tied to executive failure was an insensitive, abrasive or bullying style,” said Dr Christine Porath (Reproduced from TED Talk 2018).

  1. [Book] Secrets of great leaders – 50 ways to make a difference, by Carol O’Connor (2015)
secrets of great leaders

Reproduced from Amazon

  1. [Book] Silence – The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise, by Thich Nhat Hanh (2015)
silence book thich nhat hanh

“Just as a candle radiates light, heat, and scent, our thinking manifests itself in various ways, including in our speech and our actions.” – Thich Nhat Hanh, in Silence (Reproduced from Google Books).


We hope this summary article has already drawn a big picture of each of the 4 habits and is a source of inspiration for you to go further on your agile practice as a servant leader. We also hope the recommended learning resources provided for each habit will give you ample opportunities to explore them in your own way.