Leader & Servant

For many years, Scrum described the Scrum Master as a servant leader. Someone who recognises people as an organisation’s most important asset and prioritises their needs to serve them rather than focusing solely on their goals and ambitions. They prioritise the development of their team members and seek to empower them to reach their full potential. This leadership style emphasises collaboration, empathy, and humility and aims to create a positive work culture based on mutual respect and support. By prioritising the needs of their team, a servant leader seeks to create a motivated and engaged team, ultimately leading to better performance and outcomes.

Servant Leadership

The concept of servant leadership was first introduced by Robert K. Greenleaf in 1970 in his essay, The Servant as Leader. According to Greenleaf, a servant leader has a natural desire to serve others and puts the needs of their followers first, rather than seeking power or authority for themselves. A set of core values, including empathy, listening, stewardship, and commitment to the growth and development of others, guides this type of leader.

One of the fundamental principles of servant leadership is the idea of empowering others. This means providing opportunities for team members to grow, learn, and take ownership of their work. Servant leaders encourage their team members to take initiative, make decisions, and learn from their mistakes rather than micromanaging or controlling every aspect of their work.

Another essential principle of servant leadership is humility. Servant leaders recognise that they are not infallible and are willing to admit their mistakes and weaknesses. They value their team members’ diverse perspectives and experiences and are open to feedback and constructive criticism.

Servant leaders aim to inspire followers to work together towards a shared vision and achieve their goals. The growth and success of others measure their success. Servant Leadership is commonly conducted without authority. Rather than forcing people to follow them, the servant leader should be chosen because they are trusted and proven. In this way, it is preferable for a Scrum Team to recruit its own Scrum Master rather than have one chosen for them.

A parent-child relationship can be used to explain the concept of servant leadership. A parent is responsible for nurturing and supporting their child, just as a servant leader is responsible for promoting and supporting their team members.

A good parent doesn’t boss their child around or dictate every move they make. Instead, they listen to their child, provide guidance and support, and empower them to make decisions. They also prioritise their child’s well-being and emotional needs, ensuring they feel supported and cared for.

Similarly, servant leaders listen to their team members, provide guidance and support, and empower them to make decisions. They also prioritise their team members’ well-being, creating a positive and supportive work environment.

A parent is also accountable for their child’s success, just as a servant leader is accountable for their team’s success. A good parent celebrates their child’s achievements and supports them through setbacks. Similarly, a servant leader celebrates their team’s successes and supports them through challenges and failures.

We can also examine servant leadership using the behaviour of a sheepdog. Just as a sheepdog is responsible for keeping the flock safe, a servant leader is responsible for ensuring the well-being and growth of their team members.

A sheepdog does not lead by barking orders or using force but rather by guiding and protecting the flock. Similarly, a servant leader does not dictate what their team members should do but instead supports and empowers them to achieve their goals. A sheepdog also exhibits loyalty and dedication to their flock, always putting their needs first. A servant leader similarly puts the needs and well-being of their team members first, seeking to understand their perspectives and creating a positive and supportive work environment.

Leaders Who Serve

The 2020 Scrum Guide surprised many by removing the term “servant leader” for the Scrum Master. Despite this change, the Scrum Master’s responsibilities remain the same. The term has been replaced with “true leaders who serve, “ which reflects the Scrum Master’s duties and improves on the previous description.

In the past, the Scrum Master’s role has been misunderstood and often reduced to tasks such as meeting coordination or providing refreshments for the team. These misconceptions diminished the value that the Scrum Master can bring to an organisation.

The new language in the Scrum Guide emphasises that the Scrum Master is a leader who helps the Scrum Team discover its potential through self-management and enables the organisation to achieve improved results. This change clarifies that the Scrum Master has a two-fold responsibility of managing both up and down and ensures anyone reading the Scrum Guide will better understand the Scrum Master’s leadership qualities.