The ScrumMaster as Servant Leader
eadership in a modern organization is a paradox whereby leaders provide a vision of what the organization should strive to achieve but then serve those in the organization in order to realize that vision. This is embodied in the management philosophy of servant leadership.
As defined by the Alliance for Servant Leadership, the principles of servant leadership are:
- Transformation as a vehicle for personal and institutional growth.
- Personal growth and its importance to the individual and the institution.
- Enabling environments that encourage individuals to share ideas and express opinions.
- Service as a fundamental reason that people want to lead.
- Trusting relationships based on mutual respect, trust, civility, acceptance, and reciprocity.
- Creating commitment rather than imposing controls in order to accomplish valued missions.
- Community building where individuals work effective together, as teams.
- Nurturing the spirit as a way to provide joy and fulfillment in meaningful work.
These principles fit squarely with an agile organization’s values of teamwork, collaboration, trust, continuous improvement, extraordinary service, and empowerment.
Exceptional leaders are confident enough to and capable of following a servant leader approach; those who are less skilled are autocratic. A Scrum Master can practice servant leadership by:
- Seldom, if ever, telling anyone on the team what to do. Becoming a Scrum Master involves learning the various mechanisms and ceremonies associated with Scrum. The most profound aspect of leading a Scrum team, however, is not in learning a methodology. Rather it is about asking very deep, probing questions and helping the team find its way to a solution rather than giving them the solution. The benefits and impact of this are significant both in terms of the outcomes but also in the satisfaction and commitment that this builds in team members. It is one thing to say that team members are empowered; it is quite another to actually empower them.
- Not assigning tasks to team members. For an organization transitioning to agile, other authority figures may misinterpret this as a lack of leadership by the Scrum Master. If those authority figures attempt to direct the team, the Scrum Master should educate them regarding what it means for a team to be self-organizing.
- Reminding the team about the product vision and sprint goals. Note that it is also key for the Product Owner for articulate product vision throughout an effort.
- Removing roadblocks that stand in the team’s way.
- One of the characteristics of an effective Scrum team is that most of its members have a general enough skill set to perform a variety of tasks and do whatever it takes to “move the ball down the field” as a unit. This requires that people who used to be very focused and very good at a specific type of work or technology develop and grow a broader skill set. A manager serves their team by helping to steer them towards personal growth opportunities. He/she enables this personal growth by encouraging team members to seek training for new skills and to take on assignments that are outside of their comfort zone.