top of page

Habits of an agile servant leader – Habit 1: Awareness & Mindfulness

In the last blogpost, we introduced to you briefly the 4 habits that make successful agile servant-leaders. In this article, we are going to dive deeper into the first habit – Awareness and Mindfulness, starting with what Awareness and Mindfulness is and how this crucial and commonly-acquired habit allows agile servant-leaders to manage themselves and the Scrum teams more effectively.

 Habits of an agile servant leader – Habit 1: Awareness & Mindfulness
Reproduced from University of Michigan’s University Health Service (n.d.)

Awareness and Mindfulness: Definition

All servant leaders, from the perspective of servant leadership, share the quality of awareness. According to Robert K. Greenleaf who coined the term servant leadership:

“General awareness, and especially self-awareness, strengthens the servant-leaders. Awareness helps one in understanding issues involving ethics, power, and values.”

Deep awareness, or mindfulness, enables a deep understanding of oneself and others – which is critical in building trust in Agile culture.

“Mindfulness is a quality that every human being already possesses, it’s not something you have to conjure up, you just have to learn how to access it. While mindfulness is innate, it can be cultivated through proven techniques, particularly seated, walking, standing, and moving meditation.” (more techniques are covered in this article’s Ways to cultivate more Awareness and Mindfulness At Work)

Learn more about this habit through this research-based What is Mindfulness? article by Greater Good Science Center (University of California Berkeley).

Awareness and Mindfulness and the world’s tech industry

Awareness and Mindfulness and the world’s tech industry
Reproduced from Google, Toyota, American Express, Salesforce, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and (n.d.)

Mindfulness “sparks innovation” (Mindful Magazine, 2014).

As a matter of fact, most Agile-minded, innovation-driven organizations like Toyota (the birthplace of Kanban), Ford Motor Corporation, or American Express are applying mindfulness in business.

“Among the top executives who meditate and encourage their employees to follow their example, for instance, are Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, and Google co-founder Sergey Brin. In fact, attending a meditation class is a popular way to begin the workday at many Silicon Valley companies, including Apple, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, said Christian Greiser and Jan-Philipp Martini from the Boston Consulting Group, in an article published by The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

To see American Express‘s perspective on mindfulness in business, click here.

Benefits of Awareness and Mindfulness for agile servant leaders

Benefit 1: Keep Scrum teams from avoidable relationship tension

According to Bloomberg and Agile Alliance, most (if not all) challenges faced in the tech industry are “not about technical reasons but human issues.

In fact, one of the most common problems any team encounters is miscommunication and conflicts resulted from miscommunication.

Meanwhile, non-verbal communication is most likely responsible for conflicts in teams, as a study by UCLA shows it accounts for 93% of communication effectiveness. Of this:

  • 55% comes from body language

  • 38% tone of voice

Being mindful moment-to-moment allows Scrum Masters to quickly tell hidden on-going and future “impediments” in communication – especially non-verbally, and make timely interference to protect their teams from avoidable conflicts.

 and make timely interference to protect their teams from avoidable conflicts.

Once Awareness and Mindfulness becomes the second nature to Scrum Masters, they will:

  • better understand themselves and others

  • increase their emotional intelligence – a building block for trust to grow in agile servant leaders’ relationships with others

  • make Scrum practice go hassle-free

Benefit 2: Reduce stress and increase productivity among the servant leaders

Mindfulness was first pioneered by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn way back in the late 1970s “as a means of reducing stress”. A study by Harvard Medical School also shows that Awareness and Mindfulness plays an important role in easing “psychological stresses like anxiety, depression, and pain”.

With an increasing number of workers around the world having to deal with a stressful, fast-paced business environment on daily basis, this is very good news.

“The latest Job Stress Index survey found more than a quarter of Swiss workers suffering from critical levels of workplace stress. [Besides,] burnout is recognized as an occupational disease in at least nine European countries including France, Sweden, and the Netherlands. In the United States, some surveys show that 77% of professionals say they have experienced burnout.”

Click here to see enlarged infographic

Benefit 2: Reduce stress and increase productivity among the servant leaders
Reproduced from Deloitte (2015)

Dr. Ellen Langer – a Professor of Psychology at the Harvard University who has found “a strong link between mindfulness and leadership effectiveness”, reports that increasing mindfulness:

  • decreases burnout and accidents”

  • increases productivity”

  • increases creativity, memory, [and] attention”

  • positively affects health, and even longevity”

As Margie Warrell, member of Forbes School of Business & Technology Advisory Board, said:

“[M]any organizations are seeing a ROI from mindfulness programs worthy of continued investment.”

Below, Harvard University professor Ellen Langer shares her stance on how important it is to be mindful at work based on studies she’s done the past 40 years in an MSNBC interview.

Reproduced from American Express (2015)

Benefit 3: Create a more inclusive and happier workplace

The next benefit of Awareness and Mindfulness habit is it increases Scrum Masters’ understanding of social challenges happening at work. These social challenges are – more often than not, rarely-touched topics in team meetings. These challenges come in various forms:

  • Lack of diversity in gender and race

  • Gender bias – mostly in the forms of sexism or misogyny

  • Xenophobia and racism

  • Discrimination against LGBT communities

Typically unspoken, these frequently-faced issues at work have hindered IT talents to effectively handle their jobs – as individuals and as teams, to the best of their capabilities. At this point, Awareness and Mindfulness habit allows Scrum Masters to act in ways that bring about a more inclusive, safer, and happier workplace for people of different backgrounds.

When Awareness and Mindfulness is practiced correctly, Scrum Masters (and everyone in the Scrum team) become honest and open about the challenges with performing the work”, and have courage to do the right thing” (Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber, 2017). The cultivation of Awareness and Mindfulness habit also creates a positive team atmosphere. This positively influences team’s performance as the inventor of Scrum Jeff Sutherland has emphasized more than once that happiness is directly proportional to a Scrum team’s productivity.

Happy people are about 12% more productive, according to a study by the University of Warwick.
Happy people are about 12% more productive, according to a study by the University of Warwick.

For that reason, as Geoff Watts said, “the right thing” for agile servant-leaders to do can be:

  • tear up old standards

  • challenge the traditions [in] their companies

  • pioneer new techniques and strategies”

Benefit 4: Manage time better

A study shows that if all leaders are more mindful and focused, the time normally spent in meetings alone will be shed by as much as 30%. In Scrum‘s term, this means the Daily Scrum can be conducted much more effectively on daily basis.

On top of that, the same amount of time will also be deducted on emails if people are successfully applying the first habit at work.

With better time management thanks to Awareness and Mindfulness, Scrum Masters can bring positive changes and increase teamwork effectiveness in their Scrum Teams as true agile servant-leaders.

See how mindfulness is part of the culture of Agile organizations like Ford Motor Company right here (Reproduced from UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center 2016).

Benefit 5: Create people-centric organizational culture

Create people-centric organizational culture

In a 2018 interview with Harvard Business Review, authors Jacqueline Carter and Raasmus Hougaard of The Mind of the Leader book affirmed, when leaders become “more mindful and more self-aware”, there will be a “more people-centric culture“. It is where people are put at the center of the organization.

“The people’s well-being, the people’s sense of connectedness and meaning takes center stage”.

Watch The Misconceptions of Mindfulness at Work presented by Jacqueline Carter & Rasmus Hougaard at the Mindfulness & Well-Being at Work (November 2015), hosted by the UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center (2016).

Ways to cultivate more Awareness and Mindfulness at work

1. Seated meditation

“Mindfulness is which one can develop through the practice of meditation and through other training.” For that reason, it is recommended that you take some time during the day to meditate. Follows are some tips from Mindful Magazine, a research-backed magazine in cultivating mindfulness.

Seated meditation
Reproduced from Mindful Magazine (2018)

2. Breath meditation

Let’s try this 5-Minute Breathing Meditation To Cultivate Mindfulness scientifically backed by UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center.

“You may find that your mind wanders, distracted by thoughts or bodily sensations. That’s okay. Just notice that this is happening and gently bring your attention back to your breath.”

3. 2-2-2 strategy

Rasmus Hougaard & Jacqueline Carter, in 2018 Leading With Less Ego interview with Harvard Business Review, propose the 2-2-2 strategy for leaders to be more insightful and all-the-more calm at work.

  • Upon starting to work in the morning, start with two minutes of mindfulness practice: focus on your breathing or your belly as it goes up and down with your breathing with eyes closed. You may set up a vibrating alarm for this activity. Check-in with your body: does it feel energized after a good night sleep? Or has it any aches somewhere that need some brief massage and relaxation?

  • then two minutes of prioritization: reflect on the most important things which really need to get done today that help achieve long-term vision.

  • then the next two minutes is about planning: successful leaders treat their calendar while being aware and mindful of their mental states and bodily states.

    • For example, he/she may be aware their mental states are not effective for back-to-back meetings, so he/she blocks in 5 minutes between the meetings so they can take a short break (with mindfulness practice mentioned above) and check-in with themselves.

    • He/she cancel meetings even though they’re important when they know they’re not going to be at their best emotionally or physically.

Reproduced from Rasmus Hougaard’s Audible profile and Optimality LLC
Reproduced from Rasmus Hougaard’s Audible profile and Optimality LLC

4. Do something different each day

Try to do one thing differently each day with the list down below. If “daily” is out of reach, target doing only one thing for a whole week, or an entire month (or so) and see the positive difference for yourself

Do something different each day
Reproduced from Lifehack (2016)

5. Robert K. Greenleaf‘s reflective questions

Spend some time to ask yourself:

  • Do those served to grow as persons?

  • Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?

  • And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society (i.e. the poor, the under-represented, among others)?

  • Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?

[Fun corner] Let’s take these quizzes from UC Berkeley to find out your stress and mindfulness levels!

The Greater Good Science Center from the University of California, Berkeley, is a great place to find out more about Awareness and Mindfulness and tips to cultivate this wholesome habit.

Have fun!

Through this article, Awareness and Mindfulness is discussed as the first habit of an effective agile servant-leader. We also go through the benefits of this habit for agile servant-leaders in coping with challenges that hold down Scrum Masters’ development, Scrum Team’s performances, and future growth of their organizations.

We hope with the tips provided in the end, agile servant leaders can be able to cultivate more Awareness and Mindfulness at work. Do not hesitate to add your own creative way of developing this habit besides the principles provided in this blogpost!

Curious about what the next habit’s about? Let’s move on to Habit 2: Empathy and Compassion.



bottom of page