The servant-leader is servant-first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant to make sure that other people's highest priority needs are being met.
-- Robert K. Greenleaf
Adopting a servant-leadership style makes you an effective ScrumMaster, one I call "ScrumMaster 2.0."
The ScrumMaster has been frequently misunderstood, which has led to great confusion. The name itself leads people to incorrect assumptions due to the word "Master." In my article Playing the ScrumMaster Role, Challenges and Significance
, I provided an explanation about the ScrumMaster role.
The ScrumMaster role is unique, and some of its key expectations are as follows:
The ScrumMaster is a facilitator.
The ScrumMaster is a coach.
The ScrumMaster helps the team remove impediments.
The ScrumMaster should follow the servant-leader style.
The ScrumMaster is the framework custodian.
When I started my journey in Scrum, I asked myself, "What does really mean to be a servant-leader?"
In the first days of my ScrumMaster experience, I couldn't deeply understand what skills organizations would be looking for when trying to identify someone to fulfill the responsibilities of the ScrumMaster, as servant-leader, with no authority. As a Scrum practitioner now, I deeply understand what it means.
Ken Schwaber (2004) and others describe the ScrumMaster as a type of servant-leader to the team; a shepherd watching over and guiding the flock. There have been many other attempts at a metaphorical definition of servant leader. In his article "Six Attributes of a Good ScrumMaster" (2007), Mike Cohn suggests the metaphor of the orchestra conductor.
The very notion of a servant as leader, or "servant-leadership" as it has come to be known, is purposefully oxymoronic and arresting in nature. The theory's originator, Robert K. Greenleaf, intentionally sought a descriptor that would give people pause for thought and challenge any long-standing assumptions that might be held about the relationship between leaders and followers in an organization. By combining two seemingly contradictory terms, Greenleaf asks us to reconsider the very nature of leadership. Although aware of the negative historical connotations associated with the word "servant," he felt it a necessary choice to turn on its head any established conception about the organizational pyramid and to jump-start insight into a new view of leadership. This concern for linguistic impact is further evidenced by Greenleaf's titling of his seminal essay as "The Servant as Leader," and not the inverse, "The Leader as Servant."
Larry Spears, executive director of the Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant-Leadership, succinctly defines servant-leadership as " . . . a new kind of leadership model -- a model which puts serving others as the number-one priority. Servant-leadership emphasizes increased service to others; a holistic approach to work; promoting a sense of community; and the sharing of power in decision-making" (1996, p. 33).
Behavioral theorists have identified ten major leadership characteristics, or "attributes," in Greenleaf's writings (Russell and Stone, 2002, p. 146). In more recent literature on servant leadership, Dr. Jonathon Passmore builds on Greenleaf's work to create a model of servant leadership that is consistent with the themes of the 1970 essay (Passmore 2009, adapted from Greenleaf 1977).
This is the model he offers:
-- This is the recognition that developing individuals and teams not just in terms of the organization's profitability but in more broad terms of enriching their working lives will bring both tangible and intangible benefits.
-- A servant leader guides a team not by telling them what to do but by removing impediments that get in their way and by coaching them in Agile practices. It can be thought of as a type of stewardship.
-- According to Greenleaf, "All that is needed to rebuild community as a viable life form . . . is for enough servant-leaders to show the way." Related to the role of ScrumMaster is a focus on helping Scrum teams build better relationships with the organization they belong to, breaking down silos and improving collaborations with other teams and departments.
-- The effective ScrumMaster helps build team consensus through "gentle but clear and persistent persuasion and does not exert group compliance through a position of power." The ScrumMaster should not use his role to force the team to follow the Scrum framework. The ScrumMaster is the keeper of the Scrum framework and needs to ensure the team follows it. To do this, he needs to work with the team to explain the benefits, rather than forcing the team to follow Scrum rules and principles blindly.
When the ScrumMaster goes to the daily stand-up and tells the team that it should have a set of working agreements as common protocols, without giving much explanation about the benefits, the team could immediately discard the concept. If the ScrumMaster explains the benefits of having the working agreements by pointing out some of the obvious reasons they help the team with problems (team members always coming late to meetings, phone etiquette during meetings, etc.), it will be received better by the team.
-- A critical communication tool, listening is necessary for accurate communication and for actively demonstrating respect for others. According to Greenleaf, "Only a true natural servant automatically responds to any problem by listening first" (1970, p. 10). The ScrumMaster needs to listen to teams during the daily Scrum, and other meetings, to pick up on clues about self-organization, impediments, where the team is at, etc.
If a team member is working on the same task for few days without much progress and is not explicit about the holdup, the ScrumMaster will be able to pick up on it just by listening at the daily Scrum. The ScrumMaster can then have a conversation to understand the holdup and help the team members with their progression.
As ScrumMaster, I spend a lot of time and energy listening to what is not being said. Active listening means observing what you hear and see, like the speaker's body language and emotions, in order to better understand what the speaker is truly saying. When I fail to listen, I lose the ability to understand and interpret what was said. When I fail to listen, I create a communication "gap" and I try to fill that gap with my personal bias, judgments, and experiences. That's wrong!
-- Without awareness, we "miss leadership opportunities." The ScrumMaster gains awareness of situations from taking a holistic view to achieve better understanding of ethics and values.
The ScrumMaster needs to look at situations from a higher level than the rest of the team. If your ScrumMaster is also working as a development team member, it may hinder his or her ability to look beyond the development role, becoming too close to development tasks instead of being a good ScrumMaster. When the ScrumMaster is not working at the task level, it will enable him to view the team with a holistic approach.
-- The ability to mentally project one's own consciousness into that of another individual. Greenleaf wrote, "The servant always accepts and empathizes, never rejects," and "Men grow taller when those who lead them empathize, and when they are accepted for whom they are . . . " (1970, p. 14).
The ScrumMaster strives to understand and empathize with others. People need to be accepted and recognized for their special and unique spirits. One assumes the good intentions of coworkers and colleagues and does not reject them as people, even when one may be forced to refuse to accept certain behaviors or performances.
The most successful ScrumMasters are those who have become skilled and empathetic listeners.
-- "Prescience, or foresight, is a better than average guess about what is going to happen when in the future."
The last set of elements is more strategic in nature: having the foresight to make sense of what's happening in the team or organization and using that to inform and develop teams; having a clear vision
about the aims of the organization and providing that to the teams in a manner that will bring about positive transformation
Each of the above-listed tenets of servant leadership can derive only from the selfless, "others-directed" motivation that resides within the leader. This foundation is distinctive to servant leadership. Studies by behavioral scientists confirm these ten characteristics as being critical to servant leadership.
Though this attribute fits the ScrumMaster role a bit better than the traditional project manager role, adopting a servant-leadership style regardless of what type of project method or process you implement will make you a more effective leader in our modern, fast-paced, and networked world.
These ten characteristics of servant leadership are by no means exhaustive. However, they do serve to communicate the power and promise that this concept offers to ScrumMasters who are open to its invitation and challenge.
Instead of managing through a command-and-control style, the ScrumMaster acts as a servant leader to the team. The ScrumMaster leads the team, but differently than the traditional project manager. Servant leadership is about patient, respectful, and selfless management of team members and encouragement of a more collaborative engagement. A servant project leader will raise issues and remove impediments without taking responsibility away from the team, staying in the background and supporting team communication and team decisions with little intrusion. It's about being a coach and mentor.
Bibliography and suggested resources
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