Servant leadership characteristics
Army generals lead their soldiers using a command and control approach to leadership.
Scrum masters prefer the servant-leader approach.
A servant-leader is someone who the puts the well-being of team they lead before their own personal, short-term self-interests.
A servant leader knows that to propel the team to success and help the team achieve its goals serves their self-interest in the long run. This is how Scrum masters are expected to behave.
Servant leader examples
Here are five examples of how a Scrum master exhibits servant leadership:
- Removes impediments that block the Scrum team's progress.
- Respects the rights of developers to self-manage.
- Provides clarity to the team in terms of what is expected from them, based on the Scrum Guide.
- Creates a psychologically safe environment for the team.
- Leads by example with demonstrated adherence to the Scrum values.
Servant leadership and the Scrum Guide
Until 2020, the Scrum Guide underscored the importance that a Scrum master is a servant leader to their team. To the surprise of many, the 2020 Scrum Guide removed all references to the term.
That's not to imply servant leadership is no longer an important trait of a Scrum master. Its removal has more do to the Scrum Guide's dedication to the precision of its logos than disillusionment with the concept of servant leadership.
"Servant-leader was removed from the latest Scrum Guide not because Scrum masters aren't servant leaders, but because they're leaders first who serve," said Dave West, the CEO of Scrum.org.
With that in mind, all of these examples of servant-leadership in Scrum should be framed within this backdrop: The Scrum master is a leader first, with a constant desire to serve the team.
The 2020 Scrum Guide, page 6
The official Scrum Guide states that one of the responsibilities of the Scrum master is: "causing the removal of impediments to the Scrum Team's progress."
For example, endless meetings can sap a development team's energy and creativity. If management requests daily updates from the developers or attempts to hijack the daily Scrum and turn it into a status meeting, this impedes the team's progress.
In this situation, the Scrum master serves the team in the following ways:
- Coach management on the purpose of the daily Scrum.
- Demonstrate to management how Scrum's transparent artifacts provide true insight into progress.
- Show management how use the sprint review to provide feedback to the developers.
With the impediment removed, developers will be more productive and more likely achieve the goals they set for themselves at the beginning of the sprint.
Respect the right to self-manage
Scrum teams are made up of highly motivated developers who are trusted to produce a valuable and usable increment of work by the end of each sprint.
The Scrum master, acting as a servant leader, supports an environment in the following ways:
- Supports the development team's right to decide which backlog items are added to a sprint.
- Allows the developers to estimate the time it will take to complete a given feature.
- Protects the developers' right to work at a sustainable pace and avoid burnout.
The Scrum master not only respects a developer's right to self-manage, but also coaches others on the importance of the self-management when there is an impedance on the developer's right to do so.
Those new to Scrum can become mystified by the purpose of the Scrum events and the function of the Scrum artifacts.
The Scrum master both serves and leads by providing clarity about what is expected from everyone in the Scrum: the product owner, developers, stakeholders and management.
For example, the Scrum master will do the following:
- Help the product owner by explaining the importance of ordering the product backlog.
- Help management by explaining why developers must be allowed to self-organize.
- Help the developers by coaching them on how to create a sprint goal that is aggressive yet achievable.
All of these activities serve the team because they provide clarity about what Scrum expects from them.
A psychologically safe environment is one in which all participants feel free to share ideas, raise concerns and speak honestly about the progress they have made.
One of the three Scrum pillars is transparency, and one of the five Scrum values is openness. An environment in which team members are afraid to speak truthfully and honestly discourages openness, which in the end hurts transparency.
Without transparency, the team can't adequately inspect Scrum artifacts and loses the ability to adapt when necessary.
"We need psychological safety to create an environment where transparency is easy because we're solving complex problems," West said.
Lead by example
Finally, the Scrum master acts as a servant leader by showing commitment to the following Scrum values:
The Scrum master should work at a sustainable pace, remain motivated and show respect and deference to the direction the Scrum Guide provides. Leading by example is a perfect behavior for a leader who serves.