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With an objective to enable continuous learning and progression for our learners, PremierAgile curated several learning articles. Out of a wide range of topics, you can choose to learn from the real-world experiences by practitioners in the areas of Agile, Scrum, Product Ownership, Scaling, Agile Leadership, Tools & Frameworks, latest market trends, new innovations etc.

What is Servant Leadership in Agile?

When we talk of leaders, we visualize someone with leadership qualities who can show and take the team in the right direction and control the team. We think of a leader who tells the team what to do and not to do, guides them, and ensures that the team follows those directions. This seems to be the true essence of leadership. A leader is always the center of all action and usually grabs the limelight while the team works silently in the background. But here, we are talking about 'servant leadership,' which is quite different from the regular leadership role. And particularly in the context of the Agile environment.

What is Servant Leadership?

The term Servant Leadership was introduced much before the use of Agile had started. Robert K Greenleaf coined this term in the year 1970. Servant leaders have been defined as leaders who put the needs and interests of the team before their own. They put more accountability on themselves than the team, thus developing trust within the team. They share power rather than concentrating it in their own hands and help team members to develop. Servant Leadership listens to understand and does not judge. This way, they build harmony in the team, which leads to greater effectiveness in the team's work.

What is Servant Leadership in Agile?

In Agile, people usually think of Scrum Master and Product Owner as typical leadership roles, but in actual practice, it is not exactly like that. Rather than giving instructions to the team, they help the team organize itself. While a classic leader is expected to think for the team and direct it, and the team should follow the leader, a servant leader in Agile acts quite the opposite. A Scrum Master or a Product Owner supports the team in achieving success. They let the team get organized by itself, which aligns with the Agile manifesto and has several advantages. The success of a team depends largely on its capabilities. So, the servant leader works on increasing the powers of the team. 

Servant leadership in Agile is about helping the team to achieve its goal. Teams do not just have to follow the above orders; they organize themselves and work toward a common goal. If the team is given a vision rather than orders, it can deliver more efficiently and in a better way. Moreover, it would be more inspired. A self-organized team is given the freedom to make decisions, thus ensuring flexibility in decision-making instead of rigidly following the instructions from above. A servant leader may have good leadership qualities, but when combined with the qualities of the team, chances of success become brighter. A servant leader does not issue commandments but instead focuses on developing harmony within the team, encouraging team members to help each other, resulting in better overall performance. 

So, how you take up a servant leadership role depends a lot on the capability of the Agile team and the environment in which you work. Maximizing your team's ability would be one of your primary tasks as a servant leader. If your team is already strong and capable, you may be required only to facilitate its functioning. On the other hand, if your team is not as strong as it should be or lacks in capabilities, you may have to acquire an essential leadership role for some time to enable your team to reach its potential. This means a servant leader does not ultimately give up leadership but adapts to the situation. One size fits all does not work in Agile because an Agile project is always full of uncertainties. Therefore, as a servant leader, you have to be flexible. You must be willing to play a primary or a secondary role per the situation's demands. 

If you are taking up the servant leadership role, you have to take responsibility for three essential things. The first is that you must provide encouragement and motivation to the team. Next, you must enable and empower it. And third, you must facilitate your team's development to help it continuously improve its performance. Servant leadership in Agile is not about being a leader only. It is much more than that. It is about your inter-personnel skills, how you work as a team man and not as a leader, and how you can help the team grow and work independently without looking for instructions and guidance.

So, servant leadership is not about what title you are given or how much power you wield. It is about how much confidence you can build in your team to make them feel secure, how you can be more concerned about your team, and what value it can add to your company than being concerned about yourself. It is about building mutual trust. When your team members trust you and feel secure, they can feel free to share their ideas, make their own decisions, bring out their best and work with a collaborative approach. So, servant leadership in Agile is not leadership in the usual sense of the word but rather the opposite. A servant leader does not derive power from the hierarchy. Their role is more of a facilitator than a leader.

What is Servant Leadership in Scrum?

Now let us talk about servant leadership in Scrum. It is no different than what we have discussed above. As the Scrum guide says, Scrum Master is the servant leader of the Scrum team. In the Scrum framework, the term servant leader is generally associated with the role of Scrum Master. So, they put the needs of their team ahead of everything else. The primary role of a Scrum Master is to guide the team in adopting Scrum. Apart from this, this role has a lot more diversity. We all know that the core values of Scrum are openness, courage, focus, respect, and commitment, and the servant leadership in Scrum is entirely in sync with these values. It is the most critical aspect of a Scrum Master role. 

Scrum Master helps the team and provides them with the most effective and efficient conditions. So, when we say Scrum Master, they are not the master of their team but a master of specific skills like stimulating, motivating, and empowering their team to give the best.

How does a Scrum Master work as a servant leader?

As a servant leader, Scrum Master does not instruct their team on what should be done but works on removing the obstacles they encounter in performing their work. They constantly coach their team so that it can serve better. As a servant leader, Scrum Master coaches the team on quality improvement and how to achieve it. The Scrum Master encourages and trains the team in self-management and leads healthy debate. They coach the team and the whole organization in adopting Scrum. As a servant leader, Scrum Master protects the team from external disturbances and threats.

Attributes of a servant leader

Servant leaders aim to guide and support the team to enable them to realize their full potential. But to achieve that goal, they have to have certain qualities or skills that they can use to influence the team. The first and foremost is the ability to listen and understand. And this means they ought to have patience. Then they should be fully alert to the situations and conditions and considerate towards the team's problems. Earning the trust and respect of others is an essential requirement for a servant leader. They should incorporate the Scrum values of openness, commitment, courage, respect, and focus.

In conclusion, servant leadership in Agile is not about exercising authority but working to serve others. A servant leader focuses on the team's needs and how it can reach its maximum potential. They are the encourager, the enabler for the team, and make the team independent. A servant leader essentially empowers their team and ensures its smooth functioning without undue interference.

  1. https://managedagile.com/what-is-servant-leadership-and-how-does-it-relate-to-agile/
  2. https://www.5dvision.com/post/the-Scrum-master-is-a-servant-leader/
  3. https://www.Scrum.org/resources/blog/Scrum-master-servant-leader



Is a passionate learner and blogger on Agile, Scrum and Scaling areas. She has been following and practicing these areas for several years and now converting those experiences into useful articles for your continuous learning.